GULFPORT, Ms.—Six years have passed since Hurricane Katrina devastated the gulf coast of the United States. Since then, many families have picked up the pieces. Some have moved away. And others are still struggling to rebuild their lives. News7 recently visited Mississippi for the fourth time since 2005 to guage the continuing impact from the costliest hurricane in U.S. history.
"I spent two days boarding up all the doors and windows with plywood when I should have been hauling everything north of the tracks," Gulfport resident Jack Bethea told us recently, reflecting on his preparations for Hurricane Katrina. When we first met Bethea in 2005, he was picking through the ruins of his three-bedroom brick house. Two years later he was living in a FEMA trailer. Now, he's across the street in a home his mother owned. "Mother's house could be repaired," Bethea told us, "thanks to a lot of church volunteers."
Church volunteers were also instrumental in repairing Pam McAuley's house in nearby Bay St. Louis. Volunteers from the Roanoke Interfaith Coalition helped to clean the home, and clear away debris. "I was kind of in dream world about how long it was going to take to get back in my house," McAuley remembered. It took longer than she expected, but McAuley did get back into her house. And now as a Habitat for Humanity Board member, she's helping others do the same thing.
Formed after Katrina, the Hancock County Habitat chapter has built more than 180 homes during the last five years. "We have some who have never been owners," McAuley told News7, "we have some who lost their home and couldn't afford to come back, if it were not for Habitat."
The gulf coast landsape has changed over the last six years, with reconstructed port facilities, rebuilt casinos and new government buildings, but there are also huge areas that remain empty.
One of the biggest problems, says former Roanoker Billy Bova, is property insurance. Bova says insurance rates have doubled or tripled in areas near the coast, slowing development. The economic recession and the BP oil spill haven't helped either.
"I think a lot of folks are pleased with the progress we've had," Bova said in an interview, "but also a lot of folks think that by now, over six years out from Katrina, we would have seen more progress. So it's a mixed bag, a mixed bag."
For Jack Bethea, it's the little things he misses most. "So many of us lost personal childhood pictures and heirlooms that of course can never be relplaced," Bethea said, but he's grateful for a roof over his head, and the help of friends and strangers.
"I think we've come a long long way," Bethea told News7, " and I'm very proud of that and thankful for that."
Sadly, one person News7 profiled in 2007 has passed away. Gene Butterfield was a builder at Smith Mountain Lake before moving to Missisippi in 2006. When we visited a year later, he was helping families rebuild with his group Walls of Hope. Butterfield died of a heart attack this past January in Tennessee. He was 44 years old.