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In Biloxi, daunting thoughts of starting over

It wasn’t until the casinos arrived 12 years ago that downtown Biloxi, Miss.,  enjoyed an economic resurgence. Now, residents and businesses have to start thinking about starting over after Hurricane Katrina. NBC's Campbell Brown reports.

The casinos along the Gulf Coast bring in $3 billion a year for the state of Mississippi. In the last 12 years, they have drawn tourists from all over the country.

On LaMeuse Street, just one block from downtown, they are now facing the daunting task of starting over.

“There’s mud all over the floor,” says Denise Lee. “There's slime from the ocean.”

Lee works alone in her small family law practice.

“We got the computer and the hard drive out, but we didn’t have time to take the files,” she says.

Now she doesn’t know if her clients will even be able to hire her again.

“I don’t represent insurance firms, although now might be a good time to do that,” Lee says. “My clients are just regular working-class people.”

For 14 years, ophthalmologist Joel Knight has had his office across the street. Nothing inside made it through the storm except the fish tank. And Knight knows eye doctor appointments won’t be a top priority now.

“Now, if we got no casinos operating, we've got no tax revenue,” says Knight. “We've got no employees being paid, we've got no insurance for them to come to the doctor with. We're in tough shape and we're in tough shape for a long time.”

In fact, it wasn’t until the casinos arrived 12 years ago that downtown enjoyed an economic resurgence.

“When the casinos came in, six months later we were a million dollars in the black, and it just built from there,” recalls Knight.

The Palace is just one of 13 floating barge casinos picked up by Katrina, tossed ashore and scattered in pieces. 

Until Sunday, it was where Dannie Skrametta, like 14,000 other people, worked. Asked how he’s going to pay his bills and mortgage now, Skrametta can only reply, “I just don’t know.” He is thinking about starting all over — maybe in construction or as a shrimper.

Curtis Vounds owns 11 rental properties in the area and knows he and his tenants are in for some very hard times.

“I’m not gonna kick ‘em out and put ‘em on the street,” he says, “but we’ll just have to deal with it as it comes.”

Vounds is caring for more than a dozen relatives at his own home, and the strain is beginning to show.

“You try to be strong, man, because if you break down, everybody around you breaks down,” says Vounds. “It’s tough to see people like this.”

But there was one bit of good news on the job front Thursday: Harrah’s, the biggest casino owner in the area, said it will pay its employees for the next three months.