BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - Thursday marks the eighth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. This year's anniversary will be especially meaningful for a long-time Bay St. Louis school as they begin the final phase of reconstruction on campus.
For hours, Katrina's raging surge rammed into St. Stanislaus in Bay St. Louis. Assistant Principal Susan Estrade witnessed the rising waters first hand. Her family was among the 100 people who rode out the storm on the second floor of the main school building.
"We were a little frightened, but everyone remained calm and we took care of each other," said Estrade.
For eight years, the first floor of that building remained boarded-up and empty. This month, heavy equipment and construction crews moved in to finally restore what Katrina destroyed.
"It took a lot patience and a lot of prayer, a lot of time to get here. But now we're realizing the fruits of those efforts and it's really wonderful to see that," said Estrade.
Once it's finished, the bottom floor will house offices, a student union, book store, conference center, and rooms for archives and records.
"For us to have watched our bottom floor sit as it has for the last eight years, it's very discouraging. So for it to finally be coming back to life, very encouraging for us," said Brother Francis David, St. Stanislaus President.
The Katrina-ravaged dormitory will also get a $3 million makeover. The renovation work on the second and third floors will start in a couple of months.
Over at the athletic complex, crews have torn up the storm-damaged track and will install a new six-lane track.
"Having been here now for more than a century and a half, to see the school, the campus, the grounds, everything fully back to life, terribly energizing for all of us," said David.
Seeing all the construction work is also a morale booster for those who are ready to see the storm damage disappear.
"Even with the noise and the slight disruptions, we're fine with it, because we know it's progress," said Estrade. "I just think it's a blessing, especially when we speak with our alumni and the young men here on campus. They are truly excited that our school is returning, not as it was before, but even better than it was before."
FEMA is funding the rebuilding projects at St. Stanislaus. The total cost is about $8.4 million. The deadline to complete all those projects is March 31, 2015.