For 11 years, Jim Wetzel owned a piece of land on Highway 90. In 1986, he began a construction project that turned the land into his family's home. "I always wanted to live on the beach," the Gulfport attorney said.
The beach -- where on August 29 every Gulfport home disintegrated during Katrina, except for Wetzel's. "I ask myself everyday why did God spare me and not spare the rest of the people living on this beach," he said while standing in a room recently gutted by contractors. "I don't know. Maybe it's part of my destiny. When I got here, I don't even know how the house was standing."
Yet, Wetzel's two story home near Hewes Avenue somehow stood up to a storm surge that buried much of the property under a destructive sea of water. The white columned house was battered and bruised. Its bricks looked as sick as Wetzel felt when he first walked inside and waded through a mess soaked by nine feet of water. "It's just hard to catch your breath, to think that what you had and what you built, what you lived in for 17 years was now gone," he said.
Wetzel and his building consultant Wayne O'Neal both realized how lucky the family was. On a highway recently dubbed by one neighbor the boulevard of broken dreams, this is the one house still standing. "We attribute that to the columns that were strong on the front and the rear, and the fence on each side, the brick fence wall that was built on the side three years ago," said O'Neal. His job is to restore what Katrina couldn't knock down. "It's a major challenge," the consultant said.
It's a challenge the Wetzel family immediately accepted. "I said honey, the only way to heal is to build this home back, help this gulf coast that we are a part of," Wetzel told his wife. "If we lead, I think people will build back as well. And we'll have a strong gulf coast of Mississippi. And I think we'll all be proud of what we build back."
The Wetzels are hoping they can move back into their home in June. But that depends on whether contractors can find the materials they'll need to finish the restoration project.