(Reprinted from August 2015)
Thanksgiving in August:
the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in Bay St. Louis
Local leaders reflect on how far the community has come over the past decade - and give thanks to the undaunted survivors, volunteers and officials who refashioned a shining city from the rubble.
-by Ana Balka
The mayor points out that the nation’s taxpayers and government generously funded the recovery, while thousands of individuals also gave of “their hearts and souls and money to come and help us rebuild.”
“We want to thank all of America.”
Tish Williams, director of Hancock Chamber of Commerce, says events surrounding the anniversary will focus on how far the community has come since the hurricane, and honor everyone who has been a part of rebuilding the community.
“It’s definitely going to be a celebration of the progress that Hancock County has made over the last decade,” she says.
A gathering is planned at the Waveland Civic Center at 5 p.m., August 29 to commemorate the lives of those lost to Katrina in Hancock County, and to re-open the Ground Zero Hurricane Museum. There will be music, food, and beverages into the evening.
“We want people to bring lawn chairs, picnics, coolers, and photos or memorabilia to share and spark memories and stories,” says Williams.
Katrina commemoration events will actually begin August 17, when volunteers will start building a playground in honor of Edgar and Carl Bane at Elwood Bourgeois Park in Waveland.
Events go through Sunday, August 30, when area churches will host faith-based events. On Friday, August 28th, "New Day in the Bay" will take place in Old Town. Shops will stay open late and there will be music in the streets (scroll down for full list of events on a downloadable PDF).
Nikki Moon, Hancock County Tourism Board President and owner of the Bay Town Inn, speaks of all Hancock County now has to offer guests. “As visitors return to the Bay, some for the first time in a decade, they will be charmed once again.”
Galleries, shops, and restaurants welcome travelers and locals alike, she says. “It's a different Bay. We have been through a lot these past ten years, but are better, stronger and very much a community—welcoming everyone to relax, and enjoy all we have.”
All three leaders emphasized the strength of the citizens of Hancock County, and the community spirit that brought the area back to a place of vitality and prosperity.
“It's hard to look back and remember that horrible day,” says Moon. Moon spent part of Katrina hanging onto a tree in hopes of survival.
“Today I realize how strong these great people of the Bay are. They just kept going, kept putting one foot in front of the other. I am so proud to be a part of this community. These people are tough, and if I had a choice, I wouldn't live anywhere else but among them.”
One gift that Williams feels Katrina left in its wake is a renewed commitment from residents for volunteerism - people stepping up and being a part of the community. “One person can make a difference,” she said. “When you find your passion, you can make a difference. We’re seeing that throughout Hancock County.”
“We’ve come so far, and we know we didn’t get here on our own,” said Williams.
Mayor Fillingame agrees that the anniversary is a time to take a step back and thank our fellow survivors and citizens from across the country “who held our hands and helped us get to a better place.”
“It’s very humbling to look at the millions of man hours and the millions of dollars that went into the attempt to make us better than whole. And it was all given with a spirit of love and generosity.”
What’s ahead for Bay St. Louis? The mayor sees determination and creativity as the main ingredients predicting the community’s future.
“From the economic and re-population standpoints, we’re seeing growth way beyond our expectations. A vibrant sense of success is radiating out from our waterfront and Old Town. Our creative community is on fire. Our creative economy is forming the backbone of our resurgence. We’re very excited about the places we’re going.”
“But the tenth anniversary is a time to stop and celebrate who we truly are,” Fillingame continues. “We stand at this milestone reflecting on the recovery of the community as a whole - and appreciating all the individual stories built into that.”
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