Recovery Numbers Improve As 2007 Comes To An End

As we end 2007, Mississippi's Katrina recovery numbers are getting better. But they're still staggering to see. For instance, 12,000 travel trailers and mobile homes are still being used as temporary living quarters. Or how about this. The Coast Guard has pulled 321,000 cubic yards of debris out of coastal waters. And it still has four contracts to complete.

It's easy to see the recovery efforts this year by looking through the eyes of two volunteers. New Zealand's Brian Stewart first volunteered to rebuild Biloxi in December, 2005. And he never went home.

"When I first came down, I just couldn't walk away from it," he said.

Mike Tilden has led four mission trips from suburban Chicago to Biloxi.

"We wanted to come back and try to help them get back to where they were when we saw them the first time," Tilden said.

The two men from two different hemispheres are together on Rosetti Street this week. They're rebuilding one of the 234,284 homes destroyed or damaged by Katrina. Because of the elevation of the home they're constructing, they kind of look like birds building a nest in an east Biloxi tree. The main floor of the house is hidden by oak tree limbs.

Tilden initially visited Biloxi in March, 2005. So he knows what the area was like. He's seen what Katrina turned it into. And he has a pretty good idea what it could be.

"I think it can get back nearly to where it was, but it's going to take a significant amount of time," figured Tilden.

Despite a view from this perch that looks so gray and so bleak, the estimate is that at the end of 2007, 98 percent of south Mississippi's pre-Katrina population is back. And the project manager on this home thinks he knows why.

"It's a lot better than it was," commented Stewart. "Each year you see it. The trees have the leaves on, and they look better, the houses are coming back."

They're coming back, in part, because of the volunteers who've made south Mississippi's recovery a priority.

Here are two other recovery numbers found on the Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau website. Unemployment in Harrison County is 5.2 percent. That's it's lowest level since the storm. And just more than 10,000 hotel rooms are being rented. Harrison County had 17,000 rooms before Katrina.