WAVELAND, Miss. — Ten years after the eye of Hurricane Katrina hovered over Waveland, Mississippi, David Hubbard’s eyes still tear up as he shares his memories of what happened to his hometown on Aug. 29, 2005.
“I hope in my lifetime I never see anything like that again,” says the storeowner.
Hubbard and his brother Richard own Hubbard’s Hardware, a second-generation family store in this coastal town of some 6,400 residents.
The population has shrunk by almost 2,000 residents since Katrina roared through town with 120-mph winds and nearly 30-foot storm surges. Roofs, concrete walls and cars swirled obliterating many of the 19th-century homes that dotted the coast. Neighborhoods looked like they had been bulldozed. Katrina killed 25 people here.
Local artist Susie DeStefano’s did not find her mother’s body until six weeks after the storm. Patricia Meeks tried to ride out the storm in her home fearing she would not find shelter with her dog and her potbelly pig. When her home started flooding she phoned her daughter and son.
“She said 'The water is coming up, I’m going to try to get out.' And then the phone cut off,” says DeStefano.
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It was three days before the local painter could reach her mother’s home and realize the level of destruction. “There were bits and pieces of homes and cars and trees everywhere,” she says. “It was unreal.”
Waveland’s police station did not survive the storm. Rain pummeled the roof until it started flexing. Then the raging salty Gulf water rushed through a window, sucking everything it could carry into the whirpool outside.
“We were all single file in line holding hands just to keep a hold of each other,” says police chief David Allen. But the waters proved so powerful they had to hold on to a tree all afternoon to keep themselves from being washed away.
They all managed to survive, but without phone service, electricity or running vehicles, it was a week before some of their loved ones learned they were alive. The staff of 29 still works out of a trailer.
The storm flooded the Hubbard brothers’ homes and their hardware store, but the structures held up, so they turned them into shelters.
“We both had a house full of people until they could get situated,” David Hubbard says. “We even let a couple who lost everything move into our store’s office.”
Today, Waveland’s main street, Coleman Avenue, remains a lonely road with only five operating businesses, down from 29. The coast is dotted by empty lots where vacation and retirement homes once stood. Many survivors moved away, unable to afford rebuilding under new requirements. Some could not afford the higher insurance rates that followed the hurricane.
But Hubbard’s Hardware owners see their community rebounding. They say business is picking up. “People are coming back and new people are moving in,” says David Hubbard.
Local custom home builder Garrett Garcia agrees.
“It’s been very busy, a lot of new construction,” says the owner of Garcia and Sons Development whose crews are building two new homes on Waveland’s Bienville Drive, near the beach.
Hubbard says customers tell him they have decided to return and rebuild because they miss living in a place where neighbors treated each other like family.
“People are just not satisfied moving away because Waveland is unlike any other place,” says Hubbard
Erika Angulo is a producer for NBC News based in Miami. Her award-winning work includes coverage of the Oklahoma tornadoes, the U.S.-Mexico drug war, the Chilean miners' rescue and the 2010 Haiti earthquake/