After Katrina: Gulfport’s Recovery

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GULFPORT, Miss. (WJTV) — It took more than a year to remove the debris in Gulfport. Like other communities on the coast, Gulfport has a story of destruction and recovery.

“You can only anticipate and until you ride one out and see the damage you never know what you’re going to have,” said Rupert Lacy,  Harrison County Emergency Management Director.

Lacy reflects on the devastation, 10 years after the storm. The emergency management office is in Gulfport, which is a city that was hit hard itself. The night of the storm, Lacy says his team had a feeling they won’t forget.

“It was just so erie so unusual,” he said. “The smells, the sounds, You couldn’t recognize where you were. It was just that pitch dark.”

In all, 9,500 homes in Gulfport were damaged. 63 public buildings were destroyed, and 21 of the city’s parks were wiped clean.

Mayor Billy Hewes-City of Gulfport,

“Like Governor Barbour said, it’s like the hand of God just scrubbed the Gulf Coast away.” said Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes.” With uniformity with a lot of beach front and some of the inland parts too. There was not a whole lot left.”

With damage of that magnitude, the recovery process was long and tiresome for the entire gulf coast. In Gulfport It took 18 months just to remove the debris from the city.

“We lost our collective physical history,” Hewes said. “Most of the homes along the beach front were probably around the century mark.”

“Everybody just pitched in. It didn’t matter if you had a house, it didnt matter if you had a roof. We still pitched in and did what we had to do,” Lacy said.

But restoration would soon come. Gulfport received more than 300 million FEMA dollars, and funding from various grants to rebuild.

“Here’s the neat thing,” Hewes said. “A lot of folks thought there would be an exodus to the north. Really most folks have found a way to come back. We have a lot of new residents, but a lot of folks have stayed in the area. So we are a small percentage above where we were pre-Katrina.”

Jones Park and the small craft harbor, the downtown area, and the city’s picturesque beach front. They’re all examples of the city’s determination to bounce back and rebuild. Mayor Hewes says above anything, the storm put a spotlight on the worst of nature, but the best of humanity.

“There’s so much that you don’t see because it’s underground,” Hewes said. “That was just totally destroyed and had to be started all over.The recovery process has been phenomenal. We don’t use the K word that much anymore, but it’s a time to reflect right now. So really we’re looking at where we’ve come and the continued promise that we have before us. You can see and feel the difference in how proud we are of where we are, where we’ve come and what we’ve been able to do.”

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