GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Since he first arrived in 2004, Anthony Topazi has become a fixture on the coast. He has chaired dozens of commissions, and donated time to countless charities. But nothing has compared to August 29, 2005: The day Katrina changed our lives, and Topazi's.
"It was the worst natural disaster to hit this country. Nobody outside of the coast understands the reality of a 30 to 35 foot storm surge and what it does to you," Topazi remembered. "We saw tragedy every place you turned and yet we have responded better than anyone could have imagined."
Topazi has been heavily involved in rebuilding the coast, but knows there are still challenges ahead.
"Insurance and housing remain the critical issues, there are improvements in education that we have to make and there's still some improvements in our infrastructure. Ultimately, we have to get private investments flowing again, and we're beginning to see some signs of that."
He said one of his greatest accomplishments was seeing the new Kemper County Lignite Plant become a reality, despite a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club.
"We have started construction under the permits that have been issued so far. We have hit the market at a great time. Commodity prices are down, labor rates are down."
Even though Anthony Topazi is packing up and moving to Atlanta, he said the Gulf Coast has been, and always will be, his number one love.
"It's tough to leave the friends and relationships," Topazi said. "Everyone I meet has stepped forward and tried to help me and connected and we have teamed to make things better. You don't find that type of environment in many places in this country. The coast of Mississippi is really special."
And Topazi sees a bright future ahead for the coast.
"Planning the right way, this place will be spectacular in the next five years."
Topazi officially begins his new duties on August 13 in Atlanta, but will be moving in the next few days.