Slow But Steady Recovery In East Biloxi

Storm battered houses are still so easy to spot in East Biloxi. But so are the countless volunteer groups working to revive the area.

"Trying to beat the rain is what we're trying to do," said one volunteer, casting a nervous glance toward the overcast skies.

Volunteers remain the true strength of recovery, whether repairing a house or sprucing up John Henry Beck Park with community gardens and playgrounds. But the number of visiting volunteers is getting smaller.

And that means local residents will need to bear more of the recovery burden.

"This community has to pull together to help itself. Volunteers can only do so much. If you have money to apply to your recovery, you should use those funds, not wait on someone to come in and do it for you," said Bill Stallworth.

Stallworth is a Biloxi city council member who heads the East Biloxi Relief and Recovery Center.

That facility remains a hub of activity for rehab and rebuilding. While architectural students work on plans for new home construction, large information boards track progress block by block.

"We know that we've done a lot. There are well over 500 families who have been placed into their homes in the area of East Biloxi since we've been at this," said Stallworth.

Still, the pace of recovery is agonizingly slow for many residents and business owners.

"And to see Main Street here with just two of us in business, and here it is two years later, that just lets you know that it's slow recovery. But I can see some growth," said longtime barber shop owner Tyrone Burton.

Burton chooses to remain optimistic. After all, there is progress amid the misery. He says the new Coastal Health Care facility next door should be good for his business rebounding.

"It's on its way back. We was down about four months. Now we can see a difference. People are just not coming back as fast as we had anticipated," he said.

"I see right now, the light at the end of the tunnel. I can see this area coming back. Not only the way it was, but stronger, better, a lot more productive," says Stallworth.

The East Biloxi Relief and Redevelopment Center is transitioning from mostly housing rehab work to more new construction.

Stallworth says it costs about $30,000 in materials to rehab a storm damaged house, and twice that to build a new one.