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Alabama, Mississippi Coastal Residents Dread Start of Hurricane Season

Hurricane season officially begins on June first and runs until November and residents of the U.S. Gulf coast areas are anticipating the coming months with a certain degree of dread. Hurricane Katrina devastated the area less than two years ago. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Bayou La Batre, Alabama, many communities along the coast are still struggling to recover from Katrina.

Bayou La Batre is a pleasant little town on Alabama's Gulf of Mexico coast, where shrimping and shipbuilding are the major industries. But much of the town remains shut down, nearly two years after Katrina rolled through.

One exception is the Vien Dong food market, where immigrants from Vietnam and other Asian nations gather to shop and visit.

Many of them work on shrimp boats here and temporarily lost their employment when Katrina devastated the port and destroyed many boats. But they are back now, hoping nature's wrath will spare the town this hurricane season.

The same sentiment can be heard all along the coast, especially in places like Long Beach, Mississippi. It took the full brunt of Katrina. The storm knocked many beachfront homes off their foundation slabs and most owners have yet to come back to rebuild.

One of the few hardy ones who has returned is 80-year-old Anna Berry. "This is my house or where my house was before Katrina and it was just down to the slab after Katrina," she points out.

She and her family lost their home once before, to Hurricane Camille in 1969. But they love living here, so they rebuilt. "We made the mistake of thinking there would never be another storm like Camille, but nature proved us wrong."

Even though she lost her home here twice to hurricanes, Berry says she had to come back. "My children grew up here and this is home to them, so we decided we would do it one more time."

Although the beach remains, Katrina swept away much of the area's charm and Berry says it may take some time to feel fully at home again.

"Even now, when you drive along this very familiar stretch of highway 90, sometimes you think, 'Well, where exactly am I?' because some of the street signs have not been replaced and the landmarks are gone," she explains.

Wrangles over insurance payments and fear of future hurricanes have slowed recovery along the Gulf coast, but those who have come back say life here is worth the risk.

Rodney McGavran works in the shipyards at Bayou LaBatre. He says the worst is now over and the area is starting to recover. "The cleanup took a little while -- I mean it was months before people actually got back going again. Probably there are some of them who will never get back."

He plans to stay, but he remains nervous about what might come.

"I just hope we don't have a bad hurricane season,” he says. “That is what I hope, because we don't need that."