5 years later, Katrina reminders still haunt the MS Gulf Coast - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

5 years later, Katrina reminders still haunt the MS Gulf Coast

HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) -

By A.J. Giardina – bio | email

SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - Living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast all changed on August 29, 2005 when Hurricane Katrina made a direct hit.

Lives were lost, homes and businesses destroyed and the rebuilding process continues to this day.  While most of the eyesores that were left by Katrina have been cleaned up, a few of them remain.  Blighted buildings continue to haunt the Coast.

If you drive along the highways and neighborhoods around the Coast you'll find reminders of that horrendous day that changed our lives. 

In Hancock County, several buildings located on Nicholls and Central in Waveland remain in shambles and aren't secured. The property is owned by Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo.

He told me that he donated the buildings to the city after Hurricane Katrina and said the Waveland coalition uses the buildings to store various items. Longo says he cuts the grass and will contact the coalition to see if they can clean out some of the stored items to spruce up the area.

A shopping center on Highway 90 is a major eyesore and, according to Waveland officials, it  should be torn down.

The Waveland Market Center was once the home to numerous businesses. On rainy days water rushes inside through the caved in roof. Walls and doors have been knocked out and shattered glass is sprinkled all over the area.

Waveland Building Official Brent Anderson said the Waveland Market Center is under new ownership.

"It was recently purchased by a LLC company in February of this year," Anderson said. "Myself and my code enforcement officer has sent a letter requesting that the LLC corporation come into the city courts of Waveland to discuss further demolition or securing that property."

Another shopping center on Highway 90 in Waveland has comeback and is open for business, except for the old Sav-A-Center grocery store located on the east end of the complex.  Last year, new owners promised to replace the old grocery store with a new one.

Anderson stated, "The new owners of that property got some demo permits. They pulled the roof off the building. Did some demo work inside. Since then... they've made no progress on that building."

Anderson said the Waveland Building Permit office is working closely with the Board of Aldermen and the aldermen are extremely dedicated in trying to clean up blighted areas.

He said if owners don't clean up, a fine could be forthcoming.

"We have created ordinances now that we can enforce giving them a $500 fine until the property is properly cleaned and maintained from this point on. To this point we have not used that ordinance."

Before the casinos arrived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast the Santa Maria del Mar on Highway 90 was the tallest building in Biloxi. It stills stands, but how much longer?

None of the 300 hundred residents who lived in the high rise building before August 29, 2005 have been able to return.

High winds from Katrina damaged the Santa Maria's roof and water has been getting inside the 13 story building over the past 4 years and 11 months.  If you look closely, you'll see broken windows and debris still clinging to the building.

A fence has been put around the building to keep people out.

The facility qualified for replacement under FEMA's Public Assistance Program and a new facility will be constructed in a different location, south of I-10 off Popp's Ferry Road.

The complex will have two six story wings that will house apartments, administrative offices, lounges, assembly room, vending areas, kitchen, laundry and mail area.

Craig Bounds, president of SunStates Management Corporation, which overseas the Santa Maria del Mar and all retirement communities run by the Diocese of Biloxi, said once construction on the new Santa Maria Del Mar begins, it should be completed in less than a year and a-half.

He said the project should begin soon, "We anticipate approximately 14 to 16 months of construction time."

Bounds says it been a long process having to deal with HUD, FEMA and MEMA.

Until the new Santa Maria del Mar complex is completed, the old building on Highway 90 will remain.

"At this point the property is still secured with the mortgage and collateral for that mortgage and we cannot transfer that mortgage to the new property until the new property is completed," Bounds stated.

Once the new buildings are completed, the Housing Board can make a decision on the old Santa Maria del Mar. He said it could be torn down or sold to an investor.

As for as the former residents, will they be invited back?

Bounds enthusiastically said, "Absolutely. Former residents are first on our waiting list and then it will be opened up for other eligible residents."

Former residents who are interested in placing their name on the waiting list for the new Santa Maria del Mar, can call (228) 435-1642.

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