Biloxi still not back to pre-Katrina levels

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Hurricane Katrina permanently changed the face of Biloxi. East Biloxi specifically did not see many people or homes return. Prior to Katrina, Biloxi was booming, with the gaming industry bringing a lot of people to town. Its population was 50,644 and growing.

But, that all changed on August 29, 2005h when Katrina damaged and destroyed so many homes and businesses. Five years after the storm, it is estimated that Biloxi only has 38,865 people, which means almost 11,000 people did not return after Katrina.

But you have to take into account the damage and destruction. 4,773 homes in Biloxi were either total losses, or more than 50 percent damaged. And, thus far, only 741 permits have been issued to rebuild. And of the 718 businesses Katrina destroyed or damaged, only a little more than half have been rebuilt and reopened in their original locations. Plus, almost every public facility sustained some kind of damage.

In the immediate days, weeks and months after the storm $70 million in FEMA funds went toward removing nearly three million cubic yards of debris in Biloxi. That's enough to cover a football field and stand 144 stories high.

All total FEMA has obligated $487.1 million to fund public improvement projects. Here's what has been fixed or rebuilt: The Biloxi Community Center was restored, as was the Biloxi Natatorium, Port Division Administration Building, City Hall, Biloxi Lighthouse, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Municipal Building, both the Back Bay and East Biloxi Fire Stations, Biloxi Small Craft Harbor and Point Cadet Marina, piers at Coliseum and Forrest Avenue, the White Avenue Fountain and the Sports Complex lighting and fencing.

Plus, the downtown library and civic center and the Lighthouse Park and Visitors Center are both well under construction.

Biloxi officials say the biggest challenge has been getting infrastructure rebuilt because of what they describe as FEMA issues. But one of the biggest obstacles to rebuilding for so many Biloxians, they say, is the high cost and availability of insurance.

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