I got back from Biloxi on Saturday night. In short, it was an amazing trip. Approximately 2,000 volunteers worked on 200 new and rehabbed houses across the Gulf Coast. This despite some rain on Thursday and heavy rain (with a tornado warning and lots of lightning) on Friday morning. You can see videos, photos and read stories about the week on the Habitat website here.
I flew into Louis Armstrong Airport in New Orleans and took a bus over to Biloxi, MS. While I couldn't see much of the neighborhoods on the way, it's clear there's still a lot of work to be done. It also becomes quickly apparent that southern Mississippi is very flat, and southern Louisiana is even more so, comparable to southern Florida where my parents live except below sea level in parts. With the mighty Mississippi flowing past, you can see why it doesn't take much to flood the area. Apparently a proposal to make a single unified levee management system was voted down, so some of the weak points of the system are still there.
Biloxi, MS is an interesting town. The casinos are probably the largest employers in the area. Before Hurricane Katrina hit, most of them were on barges anchored just offshore. After Hurricane Katrina hit, most of them were on barges that were now onshore, having acted as battering rams against anything in their path. Almost 3 years later, most of the casinos are rebuilt, all onshore. Across the street from them, some businesses have repaired or rebuilt, but there are lots of empty foundations from former businesses and houses. I walked around a little further inland, and there were lots of damaged buildings still standing empty. In nearby neighborhoods, numerous empty foundations mark the location of former homes.
Sunday evening there was an opening ceremony and dinner held at Biloxi's Yankie Stadium. The area under the bleachers has been converted to housing for volunteers coming to the Gulf Coast to work with Habitat for Humanity, so it's the center for lots of activities. Hundreds of volunteers, President and Mrs. Carter, various VIP sponsors, Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, the former president of Romania and former Senator John Edwards all enjoyed good food and some great music performed by the Mississippi Mass Choir and Anna Wilson, as well as a number of videos to get people geared up for the week. There was also a video honoring the Carters for their 25+ years of service with Habitat for Humanity.