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Gulf Coast Attempts to Recover from Hurricane Katrina


The devastation caused by flooding in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina continues to dominate headlines here and internationally. But Hurricane Katrina did not hit New Orleans directly; it did slam hard into the coast of nearby Mississippi and left a path of destruction still visible more than five months later. VOA's Greg Flakus went to Gulfport, Mississippi to check on recovery efforts there.

The home that sat here once had a beautiful view of the water. But it was the water, combined with Hurricane Katrina's powerful winds, that destroyed everything in this area on August 29th.

These damaged structures bear witness to the devastating power of Katrina.

No one lives at number 5200 anymore. But the beaches here still look inviting.

Workers are cleaning debris from the white sand to make the beaches safe for returning residents and the tourists local communities would like to lure back.

One of the first beachfront residents to return to Gulfport was retired U.S. Army Colonel Raymond Whitmire. "Everything we had was lost. We found one golf club and that was it."

When he and his wife fled in one vehicle, they left behind another car, which ended up on a nearby neighbor's lot.

One of the people helping clear lots here is Rudolph Kehren, who left his job in Georgia to come over and help with the recovery on the Mississippi coast. He says what he found when he arrived was even worse than what he had seen in television reports.

"I call home and I call the organizations I volunteered with,” said Mr. Kehren, “and I tell them, ‘Until you come down here and see how much was destroyed you cannot imagine, you cannot comprehend, the destruction down here’."

Colonel Whitmire says his insurance company has paid for his loss and he is determined to rebuild here. "Everybody on this block is committed to rebuilding, but it is going to take so long, it is quite a challenge."

Another challenge is the very real possibility that this area could be hit by future hurricanes. But Colonel Whitmire says the lure of life by the water is strong.

"There is something about the coast. It is being on the water. When you look at the map of American population areas, it is all on the coasts and the rivers. It is just a wonderful place to live, a great way of life, great people, great weather. It is just a great place to live. Look out there, isn't that beautiful?"

Sometimes heartbreakingly beautiful.