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Last Updated: Friday, 10 February 2006, 15:41 GMT
Gulf Coast road trip: Part 1
Rhonda Buie
Rhonda Buie is a member of the BBC News website's US voters' panel.

She is originally from Slidell, Louisiana, where her family have only now managed to rebuild their home, five months after Hurricane Katrina.

Concerned with the slow pace of rebuilding in other surrounding areas, she hit the road to see for herself how communities on the US Gulf Coast are managing to get on with their lives.

This is the first in a series of pieces she is sending from the region.


A boat lies by the roadside
Much of the wreckage still lies where it settled after the storm
I started my drive by dropping my mom off in Picayune, Mississippi, to join her carpool.

Many locals lost vehicles when Katrina struck and with the price of gas being so high, she and her co-workers had to share a car to get to work.

The drive takes more than 40 minutes one-way. I had free rein of my mom's car after that, so I drove to one of the first places I saw when I returned to Slidell after Katrina - Waveland and Bay St Louis, Mississippi.

Waveland and Bay St Louis are two towns side by side. They are both small so they seem as if you are driving through one slightly larger community.

The road there goes entirely through marshland and bayou area.

Along the way there is wreckage, fragments of clothes in trees and on the side of the road and piles of debris.

Some businesses are operating out of tents
The houses along this route are all gone. Many of them were raised houses that stood perhaps six to 12 feet off the ground. This kind of construction is common in this part of the Gulf Coast.

There are businesses along the way (mainly welding and the like) that look as if they are trying to operate, although they now work out of half-destroyed buildings.

Some have one or more trailers outside the buildings. Some have large tents.

Pylons that I saw nearly standing when I was last here in December have now fallen over. I'm not certain if they were demolished or if they simply fell over.

Much of the wreckage still lies where it settled after the storm, five months ago.

Overdue for repairs

Waveland is the first destination. There are many businesses open but they are scattered among others that have simply died - for now.

Wal-Mart is open, as are various gas stations and small restaurants. The post office and utility offices along the main road are also in decent shape and running.

However, many other businesses are simply untouched. Laundromats, local restaurants, bookstores, and other small businesses were contained in large strip malls that simply did not stand up to Katrina.

It does not seem like much rebuilding is happening here, except for private homes.

At the end of the road is a decimated bridge that is overdue for repair.

It has looked like this since Katrina, and from what I can see no-one has yet been out to even survey for repairs.

Bridge at Bay St Louis
Many roads and bridges remain destroyed
On the other side of this bridge [right] lie other towns that are now very difficult to reach without a very long drive. It is situations like this that caused many people, even outside of New Orleans, to become stranded where they were after the storm.

This bridge used to lead to the other side of the bay, where there was once a straight drive along the Gulf to Biloxi and beyond, which was beautiful.

I imagine the other bridges on this route look much the same.

No shortage of work

I took a U-turn to go back and asked directions to the centre of town from a young man who was standing outside of a group of town houses in the process of being rebuilt.

His name is James Lagos, and he is a resident in Bay St Louis. He was a painter and told me about his contracting partner who was at work in the yellow house behind him. It had been stripped bare, much like my own parents' house.

James Lagos
Reconstruction will take years, according to some locals
He said reconstruction will take years and there will be no shortage of work for him, his partner, or any other contractors in the area. However, he doesn't see this as a good thing.

There are simply not enough workers available, he said. The local population is not generally trusting of workers from outside Mississippi or Louisiana because they tend to demand payment in advance, and then leave without completing their work.

Because he and his partner are local, they receive far more work, but are generally too busy with previous assignments to fulfil new requests. Some people will be waiting for a very long time before they are able to be serviced, he said.

He and his partner also offer their services for a low price. This also attracts more customers, due to the fact that many do not have much money.

Many pay out of their own pockets, because insurance companies seem to take a long time to award compensation. James' own family waited from September, and were only paid recently.

I then asked him about the bridge: Were there any plans to rebuild it? He said it was due to have work done on it a month ago, but no-one has ever arrived to repair it.

As we spoke, a black utility vehicle arrived at the foot of the bridge. It idled there for about five minutes, and then left.

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