National audience to see status of recovery efforts

Biloxi’s recovery progress and the community’s preparation for the today’s first day of the hurricane season are scheduled to be included in an ABC News “Nightline” broadcast this evening at 10:35 CT.

”Nightline” correspondent Chris Bury and a news crew were in Biloxi Wednesday afternoon to witness what Mayor A.J. Holloway called a milestone in the city’s recovery and one that involves the city’s biggest challenge: affordable housing.

Eleven east Biloxi families became the first of nearly two dozen families to be officially welcomed into homes that were restored by hundreds of volunteers from Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia.

A “Welcome Home to East Biloxi” celebration, which attracted dozens of residents, was held Wednesday on Strangi Avenue near Division Street, near one of the restored homes. Volunteers were recognized, and the Biloxi Mullet Brigade served free fried fish.

The Arlington-based Habitat group and Lord of Life Lutheran Church led a relief team to Biloxi on Sept. 8, days after Katrina devastated the city. In their first month, the volunteers operated a free clinic and distribution point at Bethel Lutheran Church on Pass Road.

Volunteers soon began concentrating efforts in east Biloxi, where more than a hundred workers “mucked out” nearly two dozen homes by day and slept in temporary quarters at Bethel Lutheran by night.

“The team quickly realized that most of the families they were helping would not be able to afford to rebuild and return to their homes,” said Bart Tucker, a Burke, Va., visitor. “They felt loudly and clearly called to return to Biloxi to restore hope to these damaged lives and homes. And return they did.

“The community of Northern Virginia responded generously with donations to begin rebuilding. Armed with a vision of restoring hope in East Biloxi, the team returned in late October and began rebuilding three homes. And they returned again in January, March and May each time with more volunteers and working on more homes.”

The team focused on flooded homes that had been gutted. On Wednesday, the first 10 will be unveiled, while six other homes are being restored, and major improvements have been previously completed on another five.

Said Tucker: “The exciting result for many of the homes that pre-date World War II is that they now they have 2006 interiors.”

Mayor A.J. Holloway joined North Virginia leaders and Biloxi Councilmembers George Lawrence and Bill Stallworth at the Wednesday afternoon ceremony.
“I want thank every one involved in this project,” Holloway told the audience, who applauded in agreement. “I can’t adequately express the deep appreciation that we have for the people of Arlington and Northern Virginia.
“Affordable housing is by far the largest challenge that we face here in Biloxi, and what you’re seeing here today – these families moving into these restored homes – represents a milestone in our recovery.” To read the complete text of the mayor’s remarks, click here.

The visit by the “Nightline” crew, Holloway said later, was opportune timing. “I’m hoping this report will show the nation the issues that we’re facing, and, since they were here for this ceremony, the report may be able to show the nation how we’re making progress. It’s a great story we have a tell.”

The other topic of the “Nightline” report was the city’s readiness for the 2006 hurricane season, which began today and runs through Nov. 30. Holloway echoed the comments that the city originally released on May 3. To read it, click here.

All major networks and cable news channels are expected to carry coverage of the city’s efforts throughout the weekend and into next week.

Noteworthy links

–To see photos from the Wednesday ceremony, click here.

–To visit the web site for Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia, click here.

–To visit the city’s online Storm & Flood Preparedness area, where you can find how-to information and real-time radar from several Gulf Coast locales, click here.

–To visit the Reviving the Renaissance area of the city web site, where you can read detailed minutes of meetings and comments about the group’s preliminary report, click here.

–To see a host of statistics on Biloxi’s Katrina recovery efforts, click here.

–To find out more about the city’s “Katrina & Biloxi” photo album and DVD, which Knight-Abbey Commercial Printing and Direct Mail of Biloxi hopes to have in a dozen south Mississippi Wal-marts by the end of the day Friday, click here.