STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Hurricane Katrina left Gulf Coast residents with a lot of questions like: Can I rebuild? What's gonna happen to my town? Could there be another big storm? NPR's Noah Adams has been looking for answers in Mississippi beachside communities, Waveland and Bay St. Louis.
NOAH ADAMS reporting:
It was the stronger east wall of the hurricane that turned the beach at Waveland and the bluff at Bay St. Louis into an ocean. Months have gone by, tons of debris have been cleared, but here at night along the dark streets, it can seem like you're in a western movie. It's like the frontier. You'll see campfires flickering through the trees. People sit outside, have some music playing, talk for awhile. If you are outside, you are not inside your FEMA trailer. I stopped in Bay St. Louis where two trailers were side by side and a fire was going out back.
(Soundbite of cracking fire)
Mr. NATHAN CRANMER (Resident, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi): Hello there. This is my father, John.
ADAMS: Hey, John.
Mr. JOHN CRANMER (Resident, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi): Hello.
ADAMS: Good to meet you.
Mr. JOHN CRANMER: You want to sit down?
ADAMS: John Cranmer lives in one of the trailers and his son Nathan is in the other. Before Katrina's landfall, Nathan and his dad shared a home on this lot. Eight feet of water ripped it apart. They've salvaged some lumber for rebuilding and there's scrap wood for the campfire.
Mr. NATHAN CRANMER: It's almost kinetic how the heat heats up the other wood to really seek gases to create more fire.
Mr. JOHN CRANMER: It's mesmerizing.
Mr. NATHAN CRANMER: Yeah.
ADAMS: Nathan Cranmer and his father John look into the embers and can almost see their new house. It has some elevation to it and it helps that they're both professional welders.
Mr. NATHAN CRANMER: We're gonna design some sort of steel structure. Maybe an A-frame or somethin' --
Mr. JOHN CRANMER: Off the ground.
Mr. NATHAN CRANMER: Yeah.
Mr. JOHN CRANMER: Mm hmm.
ADAMS: Has anybody come by to tell you how high it's gonna have to be off the ground?
Mr. NATHAN CRANMER: I've heard that if you wanta go ahead and start construction that if you started before they write the new building codes out, that there's nothin' they're gonna be able to tell you about it.
Mr. JOHN CRANMER: You're grandfathered in.
Mr. NATHAN CRANMER: Right.
ADAMS: I asked the Cranmers about an empty brick house next door that survived, although it's a mess. Somebody bought it already, they said warily. A hundred, fifty-thousand dollars they'd heard. And that's the fear people have. Prices will go up and the high rise condos might come. It's like there's big money perched out at the county line like a buzzard waiting for the local governments to go broke and then swoop in.
(Soundbite of chainsaw)
ADAMS: The Army Corps of Engineers hires contractors to clear the roadways and the home sites, if the owners approve. FEMA runs the trailer operation. They are small, shaky travel units (only temporary housing), but since October in the county, 8,000 FEMA trailers have been set up with water, sewer, electricity. Many are crowded together in emergency parks or if you are fortunate, FEMA delivers yours to what used to be your doorstep. Dave Seegrave(ph) lives in a trailer in Waveland with his wife and now, four cats.
Mr. DAVE SEEGRAVE (Resident, Waveland, Mississippi): That's Katrina survivor; we call her Got Milk. If you look at her moustache, you see those milk commercials (laughs). Yeah, she just came out of the woods after the storm.
ADAMS: Mr. Seegrave retired last year. His Waveland house has been in the family for almost four decades. Seegrave was back to stay the week after the storm, sleeping in a tent. Clearing the site himself with a wheelbarrow, he cut down 30 ruined trees, planted marigolds and drew up house plans -- 1,900 square feet.
Mr. SEEGRAVE: I'm gonna put pilings down and raise it up so that the first living floor will be 25 feet above sea level, 11 feet higher than what my slab is now, and have a loft in it, a lodge-looking exposed beams and trusses in there.
ADAMS: And what do you use that bottom, sort of wash-through level for?
Mr. SEEGRAVE: I'm gonna make a circular drive and park my automobiles and my little small fishin' boat underneath the-, use it as a carport, garage-type.
ADAMS: In downtown Bay St. Louis at an art gallery, I talked with Lori Gordon. Until Katrina's landfall she had a home and studio in Clairemont Harbor, two blocks from the beach, back in the trees along a bayou.
Ms. LORI GORDON (Resident, Clairemont Harbor, Mississippi): Oh, it was so quiet and since it was such a small, unincorporated community, not a lot of lights, I felt completely at ease getting on my bicycle at 2:00 in the morning and riding to the beach or, you know, being there at 5:00 to wait for the sun to come up.
ADAMS: It may become too expensive, Lori Gordon figures, to rebuild on her home site. She and her husband might have to move off the coast, even 20 or 30 miles north. And she says Katrina just may have washed away the last impediments to a condo and casino development at Clairemont Harbor. It was already approved by the county and she and several other residents have filed suit to stop it.
Ms. GORDON: There aren't any little communities like this along the Gulf Coast except right here. We're the only ones that had something different to offer. Now with the storm, granted, we have lost all of those beautiful, old homes on the beach. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't build single-family, beautiful new homes and bring back what we had; and we can do that. We can't do it by putting up 50 story condos.
(Soundbite of ocean waves)
ADAMS: At Waveland beach, I stood on a rebuilt pier and talked with a man and woman who once were--their families lived on adjacent streets leading out from the beach. Both houses are gone. They've been living elsewhere, calculating the wisdom of return. Waveland had a population of 7,000. The city thinks 1,000 have come back. Todd Holland wants the neighborhood to be as it was (small homes, widely spaced, lots of trees, a walk to the beach), but would like to see plans for more substantial housing (apartments, condos) with retail space and restaurants.
Mr. TODD HOLLAND (Resident, Waveland, Mississippi): I don't think the one-home- owner-at-a-time solution is going to be economically viable. I don't foresee within any short period of time that we would have enough population here to generate enough financial capital for a sustainable town.
ADAMS: Holland's friend visiting today is Sheila Plant. This is her first trip home.
Ms. SHEILA PLANT (Resident, Waveland, Mississippi): Our streets, LaFeet(ph) and Whispering Pines, I don't know if we can get that back because it was a neighborhood of families, retired couples. My kids could walk down the street and they knew everybody's name. That's a bit like going back in time for most of America. Even if you said no condos and no--I'm not sure you're gonna get all those people and those neighborhoods back, you know. I think the end of our street is supposed to be 29 feet. What older generation retired couple is gonna climb three flights of stairs to get to their front door?
ADAMS: And then there is the threat of another hurricane. Sheila Plant's husband is an oceanographer. So is their neighbor, Todd Holland. They want reassurance that Hancock County could be better prepared for a Katrina force storm.
(Soundbite of ocean waves)
ADAMS: If you stand on the pier and look out over the Mississippi Sound to the southeast and the Gulf of Mexico, you can not imagine the water 30 feet higher and churning, a sea moving ashore; that is, until you move around and see the destruction of Waveland and Bay St. Louis. Noah Adams, NPR News.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
A state sponsored Mississippi renewal form has its own vision for rebuilding Waveland and you can see it at NPR.org.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.