Carters visit Habitat homes to thank volunteers

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Two thousand volunteers turned blight into rejuvenation. Consequently, dozens of south Mississippi hurricane victims will no longer live in filth.

On Friday, the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project ended. And the Habitat for Humanity volunteers who came here to rebuild the coast began to pack up and head home.

The rain played havoc with construction schedules. So Habitat volunteers weren't able to finish many of the projects they started. But, when former President Jimmy Carter toured south Mississippi construction sites on Friday, he saw what he called a remarkable demonstration of volunteerism.

The heavy rain forced most of Friday's construction work indoors. Yet when it was time for Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter to visit the ten Habitat homes in east Biloxi, the rain slowed to a trickle. And the Carters could walk from house to house, Mr. Carter wearing a blue jeans shirt and a Habitat hat, Mrs. Carter in a blue rain coat.

In the last house on the Carters' tour, anxious volunteers prepared for their picture with the former president and first lady.

"Hi everybody," Mr. Carter said as he entered the house.

For the Carters, their 25th annual work project was both inspirational and emotional.

"There's just a feeling of excitement and community. It's just a wonderful feeling," said Mrs. Carter during an interview with WLOX News reporter Brad Kessie.

The excitement started Monday with 2,000 Habitat volunteers from around the world in south Mississippi, frantically trying to build 30 homes, rehab 30 more, and frame 48 others.

"We've seen just a remarkable demonstration of volunteerism," Mr. Carter said.

Despite two days of rain that soaked construction sites, and made a mess of Habitat's ambitious building goals, President Carter said the Gulf Coast blitz was an overwhelming success.

"If the rain had held off, we would have finished them all," the former president said. "I think it's just a remarkable demonstration of the commitment of our country to rebuild this area completely, the way it was before the storm."

During stops this week in Biloxi, Pascagoula, Gulfport, and Diamondhead, President Carter saw a determination to make the Gulf Coast better than it was.

"I would say that the Gulf Coast region has been one of the most emotional for us, and one of the most gratifying, because the blight of the hurricane was so tremendous," he said. "When I first came down here right afterwards and saw very little being done, we were somewhat discouraged. But we've seen a remarkable rejuvenation of the commitment of the people and the community spirit that binds people together has been unexcelled anywhere else in the world."

Because of the Carters, and all those Habitat volunteers who came to Biloxi this week, Mary Bunch and her two children are about to move into their first house.

"Thank you all so much," Bunch said to the volunteers on her new porch. "We can't have our house without any of you all. Thank you all so much."

According to Habitat staff members, any uncompleted project will be finished by Americorps volunteers. Families should move into their new, or refurbished homes by July 1, 2008.