In Miss., Hope of Going Home Dwindles

A day before Katrina's first anniversary, President Bush and Laura Bush tour Biloxi with Mayor A.J. Holloway, right.
A day before Katrina's first anniversary, President Bush and Laura Bush tour Biloxi with Mayor A.J. Holloway, right. (By Evan Vucci -- Associated Press)
By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 29, 2006

BILOXI, Miss. -- He doesn't seem the type to rattle easily. A gravel-voiced retired seaman with piratical swagger, Jim DeSilvey survived Katrina's 25-foot storm surge here by tying one end of an electrical cord around his waist and the other around a utility pole.

But these days when light winds begin to blow around his FEMA trailer, he springs to the window.

"I just want to make sure the water isn't coming up," he says.

Then he seems embarrassed.

"You would, too, if you'd been through what I've been through," he adds.

As people on the Gulf Coast mark the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on Tuesday, there are public memorial ceremonies and stoic promises to rebuild. President Bush toured neighborhoods here Monday. But many here say any remembrances of that day -- many of which remain appallingly clear despite the passage of time -- still largely instill private flashes of nervousness, or guilt, or depression.

For the tens of thousands of people who are still displaced by the storm, moreover, the possibilities of getting back home may now seem more remote than ever.

Fewer than 5 percent of the thousands of destroyed homes are being rebuilt, local officials said. Most of the affected homeowners in Mississippi and Louisiana have yet to see any of the billions in federal money approved to help them get back home.

"For the people who've been able to get back to their homes, there's a sigh of relief," said Biloxi City Council member Bill Stallworth. "But for those who haven't -- and that's the vast majority here -- there's a real panic.

"People recognize that it's been a year and they're still where they were the day after the storm. Now the volunteer groups are drying up. The money to assist families is drying up. People don't know what they're going to do."

Across a roughly 40-mile stretch of the Mississippi Gulf Coast from Waveland to Biloxi, the storm pushed ashore a wall of water 20 feet or higher, according to Mississippi State University researchers.

Along that portion of the Gulf, the fast-moving water "slabbed" countless homes -- that is, left nothing but the slab behind -- and obliterated most stores and office buildings.

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