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Saving My Town: The Fight for Bay St. Louis
Aired February 26, 2006 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, or what's left of it. My hometown, it's where I grew up. I'm Kathleen Koch.
For the past six months, ever since Hurricane Katrina, I've been coming back to see how it's going. In so many places there's been so little progress, it's as if the recovery has barely begun. And it's painful to see how life is stalled for many of those still here.
But at the same time, I have hope because the people of Bay St. Louis are like a family, with a strong sense of community and pride. They have huge hearts. They won't give up.
KOCH (voice-over): Bay St. Louis was unique.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bay St. Louis was a beautiful community.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of arts and crafts kind of town, real laid back, great restaurants, really good fishing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody knew each other. You know, you'd meet up on Sunday at church.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People had time for each other. People could sit out on there front porch and swing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course, the easiest word I could use to describe it, is it was home.
KOCH: Along with the charm, came a rock-solid resilience.
ANNOUNCER: The eye of the hurricane crosses east of east of Bay St. Louis.
KOCH: It was forged in 1969, when the town was battered by Hurricane Camille, one of the strongest hurricanes ever to strike the United States.
ANNOUNCER: But now there's nothing anyone can do.
KOCH: So as Katrina bored down on the Gulf Coast...
ANNOUNCER: Has upgraded itself to a Category 5 hurricane. KOCH: Many people who had ridden out Camille were reluctant to leave.
ANNOUNCER: With winds upward and above 160 miles an hour.
KOCH: Some staying in what were supposed to be hurricane-proof houses. People like Nikki (ph) and Patrick Cleveland.
PATRICK CLEVELAND, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: We always felt very safe here -- and always were for every other storm we went through here.
NIKKI CLEVELAND, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: Well, my dad was trying to build a hurricane-proof house for his family, you know, to protect his wife and children.
KOCH: Nikki was born and raised here, in this house on the beach, overlooking the Gulf. A fortress, 14-inch thick concrete walls reinforced with steel, indestructible.
About 6:00 a.m., Katrina came ashore. These images captured by a neighbor.
P. CLEVELAND: The wind got more violent, the waves got more violent, and it got really scary, really fast.
N. CLEVELAND: As the walls began to break apart and sheetrock started tearing off the studs...
P. CLEVELAND: And then a real big one came through. And it washed us out to the edge of the house. And then another big one came. I just flipped out.
And I started watching for a tree. I was very afraid of drowning. I just went from tree to tree. I probably went to 10, before I finally found a good one to hold onto.
N. CLEVELAND: You know, you finally make the decision that this is not how I'm going to go and you just start fighting. And at that time, I just managed to get a leg free and kick a whole into the roof of the house.
KOCH: Tossed by massive waves, Nikki was pummeled with the floating remains of homes, businesses, piers. She struggled to keep her head above water. She saw something shiny, dangling from a nail on a piece of plywood.
N. CLEVELAND: I realized that it was Patrick's wedding ring. I immediately thought the worst.
KOCH: But miraculously, Patrick had survived.
N. CLEVELAND: It was just the best thing I've ever seen, Patrick walking up in his poncho.
P. CLEVELAND: I was very surprised that this is all that's left. KOCH: The house was gone. Nikki's parents were gone, lost to Katrina. And so was much of Bay St. Louis. 95 percent of the homes and businesses were heavily damaged or destroyed. Katrina's 34-foot storm surge and 125 mile an hour winds had been merciless.
(on camera): Three days after the storm, I went back to a town I barely recognized.
This can't be Bay St. Louis. There were houses here. There were beautiful, big houses ... war zone ... gone maybe. How can this be? The place I used to live.
(voice-over): I searched for missing neighbors.
(on camera): Excuse me. You all seen any Van Schultz (ph), Dunsgotay (ph)? No? OK.
(voice-over): And found old high school friends.
(on camera): How are you? Oh, my god!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our homes are destroyed, but we're OK. We're alive.
KOCH (voice-over): They congregated at the two-mile long Bay Bridge, now reduced to pilings. It was the only place cell phones worked.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My son's alive!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I told you. I told you. I told you. I told you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't know if he was alive. The last time I talked to him, he was taking on water.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I told you.
KOCH (on camera): But most felt like I did, helpless and overwhelmed.
Our ice cream parlor is over here. Let's see if I can get to it. It's hard to tell where anything -- what was what anymore.
Downtown, I'm so disoriented. I walk right over the rubble of the ice cream parlor my family ran years ago.
Oh my god.
(voice-over): Beautiful, historic beachfront homes that had made this town so unique erased. Nothing left, but empty foundations, like the brick home on South Beach Boulevard where I grew up. Another hurricane-proof house.
(on camera): And these phone poles -- these are the poles that were supposed to keep this house together. (voice-over): My family had owned it for 30 years. Though my parents had sold it and moved away, its loss will break their hearts. (on camera): I don't know how I'm going to call my mom, my dad, my brother, my sisters -- tell them this, the place we grew up in where we had so many wonderful years is gone. All gone.
Destruction, loss, death everywhere. It's hard to see a way back for Bay St. Louis.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hang tough. Keep your chin up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hear you. I hear you.
TOMMY KIDD (ph), HURRICANE SURVIVOR: Hey. We've had bad times before. You can see the war zone developing.
KOCH (voice-over): Tommy Kidd has spent his entire life in Bay St. Louis.
KIDD: People are trying to salvage what little they can out of their house.
KOCH: But, he's never seen it like this.
KIDD: Mr. Tumi (ph), Jack Biname (ph). How are you, Jack? Good to see you.
KOCH: It's been two weeks since Hurricane Katrina hit, and Tommy's doing what he does best, helping people.
KIDD: I tell you, what people need is a cot to sleep on, mattresses, those foam...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They brought those. They brought cots.
KIDD: Hand sanitizers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. We also have some gasoline, if you all have generators.
KOCH: He delivers supplies and arranges for more.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a gonna talk to some people over here in the meantime.
KIDD: The one thing that people need are brooms and mops.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... and to 390 and the interstate.
KIDD: That's correct. Local information is our best source.
KOCH: But 14 days after Katrina, federal help is virtually non- existent. No FEMA trailers, few supplies and no one clearing debris. Fortunately, this town of 8,000 was invaded by an army of volunteers, good people with big hearts.
Housekeeper and Bus Driver Diane Frederick (ph) had three feet of water in her house. She didn't know how she'd repair it until the folks from Calvary Baptist Church showed up.
DIANE FREDERICK, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: I mean, they're doing it all for the Lord. They're here helping me, and they practically have done it all. They have gutted out my house for me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This stuff right here...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... is nasty.
FREDERICK: I've got them all over. I got them in my bathroom.
Thank you. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No problem, dear. It was our blessing.
FREDERICK: Thank you. Thank you.
KOCH: But for all the good will, there's something missing in Bay St. Louis, more than just the buildings and the homes -- the children.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, we've lost a lot of our young people because they had to find schools for their children. We have schools that's complete washed away, that it'll take several years to put back together.
KOCH: And that's just heartbreaking for Principal Francis Wheeler.
(on camera): How hard is it to see it?
FRANCIS WHEELER, PRINCIPAL: It's extremely hard to see it that way because I loved this school. I loved the children who were here. I loved the teachers who were here and all the faculty. We have a librarian who works so hard to make a children-friendly library. And this is definitely not it, ma'am.
KOCH: People here in Bay St. Louis know, love and help each other. That's the way it is. People will even take care of others before they help themselves.
KIDD: I've been avoiding the pain. I'm in denial.
KOCH: Tommy Kidd has been too busy to help himself. This is the first time he's going back to his house.
KIDD: All right. Home sweet home. This was the living area.
KOCH (voice-over): But upstairs, it's like Katrina never happened.
KIDD: Not even a picture off the wall. The beds are fully made. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That one over there you may need to set up.
KOCH: Still, Tommy doesn't know if he can salvage his home.
KIDD: Who knows, who knows. Well, fellas, I've had all the fun I can stand.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Happy birthday, Brian!
KOCH: These days in Bay St. Louis, having four walls and a roof is a luxury. Hundreds are in tents.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a whole different town here. It's like everything's turned upside down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've contacted the governor's office, the mayor's office, the representative's office, FEMA. Nobody's helping us.
KOCH: Anger with FEMA is widespread. From Diane's neighbor, Larry Pavalini (ph), a 70-year-old heart patient, who lost his roof.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And this is his little harboring nest where when dark fall, when they tell us the curfew is up, that he crawls into his little egg-crate nest there.
KOCH: ... to the mayor of the town. This is where Eddie Favre's house used to by. Like Larry, he's been waiting for a FEMA trailer. But if you think the mayor gets special treatment, think again.
EDDIE FAVRE, MAYOR, BAY ST. LOUIS: Oh well. We filled out the application online and well, the next day we checked the status of it, and it showed that we were denied.
KOCH: Now, the mayor and his wife are sleeping in the fire house.
FAVRE: This is where we spend the nights, right here.
KOCH: So the mayor is shopping online for a trailer.
(on camera): But, he hasn't lost hope for his people or his city.
FAVRE: They've lost everything, but they still smile. They still believe that it's going to be OK. And every day, as long as it's a little bit better today than it was yesterday, we're on the right track.
KOCH (voice-over): It might seem any town's spirit would be broken by now, but Bay St. Louis is different. Faith runs deep here.
And in a town where everyone knows everyone, nearly everyone's lost everything. People realize they're in this together. So giving up is not an option.
When we returned two months after the hurricane, reality sets in for those hoping t rebuild.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's been a lot of frustration. Yes, there's been threats. And there's going to be more of this.
KOCH: My high school football team, the Bay High Tigers, rough and tough, but no match for Hurricane Katrina. No scoreboard, a borrowed band, donated uniforms, half a roster. Still, they played on for two months until now, the end of the football season. Home games are a refuge from reality.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need this. We need normalcy back in our life.
KOCH: Star Quarterback Tyler Brush (ph) came back to play, though his home was gone.
TYLER BRUSH, HIGH SCHOOL QUARTERBACK: Wow, this was actually a two-story house. My room was right up...
KOCH (on camera): Up here?
BRUSH: ... upstairs. Yes.
KOCH: Must have been nice, overlooking the waters.
BRUSH: Yes, I had a balcony that overlooked the water, out of my room.
Most team players on our team don't have anything else to lose. Football's the only thing that a lot of people on our team do have. That's our two or three hours to get away from all this. We go out and just have fun and be teenagers again.
KOCH (voice-over): Bay St. Louis public schools are still closed. Most destroyed by Katrina. So players spend much of their day gutting buildings.
TREVOR ADAM, MIDDLE LINEBACKER: This is us everyday. I mean, morning time until evening time, we've been -- and then we go straight to football practice. That's it. This is our life until we go back to school.
KOCH: Most of the players have lost 10 to 15 pounds since the hurricane. Still, they won game after game. But, not tonight. The last chance to play at home, the exhausted Tigers lose 33 to 20. A tough blow for a team that was playing as much for the town as for itself.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Played hard and just came up short. Hurts.
KOCH: There is a small victory in Bay St. Louis. FEMA trailers have finally begun to arrive. But some, like the mayor, gave up.
FAVRE: As of the other night, it's still denied. So, we went out and got our own.
KOCH: FEMA has plenty of trailers. But people here say there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to who gets them or when they arrive. The mayor says hundreds in Bay St. Louis are still waiting.
The Clevelands are some of the lucky few. They've just received a trailer they can soon move into.
P. CLEVELAND: I thought all government housing...
KOCH: There's another loss they won't recover from. Neighbors finally found the bodies of Nikki's parents. But the government still hasn't given them the remains.
N. CLEVELAND: I don't -- and they won't talk to you. You can't get a number. It's just unbelievable. You know, the police chief said yes, it was her. You know, the guys at the funeral home, yes, it was your mother. Now it's well, we don't know.
KOCH: The Clevelands aren't the only ones in a holding pattern. In fact, most of Bay St. Louis is in insurance limbo -- nearly everyone's future held hostage.
Tommy Kidd is still living at his son's house while his house lies in ruins.
KIDD: My new key.
KOCH: It's the same story at Tommy's restaurant, a local hangout called Daddyo's
KIDD: Good home cooking the way momma used to do it and the way grandma used to do it. Every day the same groups are in here. Sometimes twice a day. They're not customers, they're friends.
KOCH: Nothing's been touched. Tommy, like most people here didn't have flood insurance. And his regular insurance company is still trying to decide whether or not to cover the damage.
KIDD: It's just hard to make any plans for the future. Every day I run into people that want to know when we're going to be open again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been here for about 25-26 years now. And I can honestly say, it's never quite looked like this.
KOCH: My high school friend, David Treutel, runs one of Bay St. Louis's oldest insurance agencies.
DAVID TREUTEL, RUNS INSURANCE AGENCY: ... reported history, we never in this area have seen water that reached the heights that we saw here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we've got the name of the wind adjuster -- you hadn't contact her yet, have you? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. Nobody has come out.
KOCH: Residents here relied on FEMA flood maps that were 20 years out of date, that indicated most of the town was safe. Even David, himself, didn't have flood insurance on his business.
TREUTEL: Did you all have any water -- did she have any water...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Underneath, all underneath we have...
TREUTEL: I guess the hardest thing is to sit down with the people and feeling that they're not getting as help as quickly as you'd like them to be helped.
You've been around almost longer than I've been around.
Many of these people are not just customers, they're friends and family members, people that I've known most of my life.
Take care of her.
KOCH: Coming up, the pain of letting go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Almost every single night I dream that I walk through my house and I touch -- you know, everything that...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey guys!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How are you?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Good.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I missed you.
HELGESON (ph): Delia (ph), what's my name?
DELIA: Ms. Helgeson.
HELGESON: You got it!
KOCH: November 7, school buses are finally rolling again down the streets of Bay St. Louis.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, one, two, three.
KOCH: Classes are in session for the first time in 10 weeks.
ELLEN HOFFMAN, MOTHER: This is just an emotional rollercoaster. I am so thrilled. This is the first day of normalcy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You look awfully pretty.
KOCH: But nearly two-thirds of the students haven't returned. Neither has one of their teachers.
DARLA GOODFELLOW, TAUGHT FIRST GRADE: I just can't -- I can't do that to my kids.
You need a little bit more than a windbreaker today, OK.
KOCH: Darla Goodfellow taught first grade. Her husband, Keith, an OB-GYN, delivered thousands of babies in Bay St. Louis.
KEITH GOODFELLOW, OB-GYN: My heart and soul, my sweat is there.
D. GOODFELLOW: This was our first home. I never thought we'd leave.
K. GOODFELLOW: This is a back porch shot.
KOCH: But they did, with their four kids, before Katrina roared in. They figured they'd be back in a few days.
D. GOODFELLOW: And I took towels and shoved them under the front part of the door, just in case the wind would blow a little bit on my hardwood floors. And told my house I loved it and to be safe, like I always do. And then we left.
As I pulled out of my driveway, it never ever crossed my mind it would be completely gone. Never.
KOCH: Instead of a beautiful waterfront home, they now share a cramped three-bedroom apartment here in Birmingham, Alabama.
D. GOODFELLOW: I mean, there are days, I'll tell you right now, when the alarm goes off at 6:10, we just kind of, you know, I'm not getting out of bed. You want to pull the covers up over your head and say, forget it.
You want it all in one or half up half in?
And then you think, oh no, I can't. I have four children.
KOCH: Months after Katrina, Darla and the children finally muster the nerve to return to Bay St. Louis. Keith has been back before.
Devout Catholics, the first stop for the Goodfellows is mass in the Community Center. Their church, Our Lady of the Gulf, where two of my sisters were married, was gutted by the hurricane.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today's mass is all about connecting. Really connecting with someone.
KOCH: But for the Goodfellows, the connections are painful. For him, a reminder of how desperately he wants to return; for her, a reminder of trauma and how much she doesn't.
D. GOODFELLOW: I mean, the people who are down there are the bravest, the strongest people I have ever known in my life, to be able to live with that day after day after day. I just -- I just can't do that.
When I turn this corner, my house will be at the end of the block -- where my house was.
Oh God! That's all that's left of the house.
We had a big, beautiful willow tree right here. We had one tree, willow tree.
KOCH: The corps of engineers is about to bulldoze what's left of the neighborhood. The Goodfellows want to try to salvage something.
DESIREE (ph): Hillary, I found something of yours!
D. GOODFELLOW: Do you want it, Hillary?
Now, Desiree, bring it back. That's right. Hillary has said she does not want to take anything that's here, remember?
She doesn't want anything from here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, her little picture frame.
Oh, there's -- I think it's the picture. Some things I found. Things I would never in a million years have brought with me, even if I knew the entire house would be gone. I took those because those were -- it's like the only proof that the past 11 years of my life were real. And that it wasn't just some dream.
KOCH (on camera): Do you think you'll ever go back to Bay St. Louis some day to live?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
KOCH: Ever? Even when you get older and you grow up?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. Never.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's never going to be home for me again.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, a part of me is there and my heart will always -- part of my heart will always be there, but I just -- I couldn't do it again. It's just too hard.
KOCH (voice-over): The Goodfellows had flood insurance on their house, but it only covered a fraction of their loss. And their insurance company won't pay the rest.
D. GOODFELLOW: They're claiming flood, which means they're not paying it, the federal government and taxpayers are paying it, because they claim our house had no wind damage whatsoever. I mean, I had an adjuster who told me he understood what it was living in a difficult situation, because he was sharing a hotel room with another adjuster.
KOCH (on camera): Poor guy.
D. GOODFELLOW: And he -- right -- I said, I really feel sorry that the complete loss of my entire life has ruined your day. He said, well thank you for understanding and stop calling me because I'm not even your adjuster, and hung up the phone. Yes.
KOCH (voice-over): Keith is trying to get used to the idea that he won't be going home. He's looking for work in other towns. But he's still fielding phone calls from his patients.
K. GOODFELLOW: Some of them are calling and saying please come back, please come back. What are we going to do? We don't have a doctor. We don't have any doctors down here.
KOCH (on camera): And how does that make you feel when they say that?
K. GOODFELLOW: It makes me terribly miss the area, number one. And that makes me feel sorry for them. It makes me feel like I should be there. D. GOODFELLOW: Almost every single night I dream that I walk through my house and I touch, you know, everything that's gone. You know, I mean, I have this dream where I'm sitting in the chair with one of my kids and it's just, the water rushes in and ripped apart. I mean, I just can't do this.
K. GOODFELLOW: I'll have dreams at night where I dream about going out at night and looking up at the stars in my backyard. I dream about going out -- on my dock -- my kids out there.
D. GOODFELLOW: It was, it was fun. It was. For 11 years, I mean, it was paradise. It truly was paradise.
KOCH (voice-over): The Goodfellows won't be coming back here. For those who did...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thought we were covered.
KOCH: ... the paradise becomes an insurance nightmare.
KOCH: Fried turkeys, dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and hundreds of volunteers -- all to make sure that at least one day in Bay St. Louis, Thanksgiving Day, feels normal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No waiting in food lines like everybody's been doing since August 29, but a true sit down meal.
KOCH: But everyone knows this holiday season is actually far from normal. The taste of recovery is so frustratingly slow. My mother, three sisters, brother and myself decided to come back from around the country to help. We've brought food and supplies for gutting houses, clearing slabs for trailers and searching for anything salvageable. (SINGING)
KOCH: It's now a week before Christmas -- four months after Katrina. The town has decided to build a playground, a place for their kids to play other than the endless rubble.
DARRELL HAMMOND, CEO, KABOOM! PLAYGROUNDS: I think about the volunteers here from the community. And some of them said it's the first time they've laughed. It's the first time that they've had joy in 110 days. And this is about rekindling hope.
FAVRE: We need to do something for the kids. You know, we're supposed to understand what's going on, but the kids aren't.
KOCH: My friends and former neighbors are trying to raise spirits, celebrating the season any way they can. Still, a manger scene reminds residents that thousands still have nowhere permanent to lay their heads.
Christmas, but only a third of the debris has been removed. It's all beginning to take a toll. NANCY HOWARD, COORDINATOR, GULF COAST MENTAL HEALTH CENTER: We're seeing an influx of people that have never crossed the threshold of a mental health center before just because they've never faced this kind of stress before. They can't communicate anymore. They can't find the right words to use. They have a problem focusing on thins that they're supposed to be doing. They can't make decisions. Generally, that's what we call the Katrina Syndrome.
KOCH: Some just want the pain to end.
HOWARD: Well, there are people, yes, that have been suicidal. Certainly. You lose everything you have. And if you weren't coping that well before the storm, this may be the trick that does it, you know.
KOCH: And there is a growing sense of betrayal here in Bay St. Louis among residents who have been paying for home insurance for years. Now, many of these insurance companies are refusing to pay.
KIDD: I've talked to people that have not even seen an adjuster yet. I've talked to people that have been waiting two and three months for some type of call or some type of answer. You know, the aggravation level is growing. They just don't need all the extra pain that goes with this. And they're not asking for what's not theirs. All they want is to be put back whole, be paid the insurance that's due them.
A little carrots for your beautiful eyes.
KOCH: Tommy Kidd thought his home's insurance claim had finally been settled -- until the phone rang.
KIDD: I don't understand this. I've not even been contacted by that person. I am getting more confused than I've ever been.
Well, you all heard my side of the conversation. This is just unbelievable B.S.
See, there's your waterline.
KOCH: Tommy and his wife have more than $200,000 of insurance on their home, but the company is offering them just $1,600. What's more, he's not getting paid for any damage to his restaurant. That company claims that it was caused by a flood, so it's not covered. This, even though, Tommy says there's no doubt Katrina's high winds were to blame.
KIDD: We had 27 witnesses across the street in the police department that saw the building blow down.
KOCH: But even full coverage is no guarantee. Ask Patrick and Nikki Cleveland.
N. CLEVELAND: We had a homeowner's, we had flood, we had wind, storm and hail and he had a hurricane coverage.
P. CLEVELAND: And to this day, we've been paid $1,000 for a tree to be removed. That's it.
KOCH: Finally, 12 days later, after three months of constant phone calls, they got paid their flood insurance settlement from the federal government, but it only covered half their loss.
N. CLEVELAND: We bought everything we could get.
P. CLEVELAND: I guess we could have had earthquake insurance, but other than that, we thought we were covered.
KOCH: Not so, says their insurance company, Nationwide. It refuses to pay them anything for the remaining damage, claiming it was all caused by flooding, which it doesn't cover, rather than by wind, which it does.
P. CLEVELAND: Houses on both sides of us all got paid because they had wind damage. So apparently, somewhere down there, because that's the direction the wind came, the wind parted and missed our house, got both of theirs, but didn't get ours.
KOCH: Their neighbors have cleared their lots and ready to rebuild. Nikki and Patrick wait.
P. CLEVELAND: We can't do anything. We're still paying on this house right here. And unless we want to destroy our credit, we have to continue paying on this house right here.
KOCH: Hardest to cope with, the loss of Nikki's parents. Their bodies have finally been identified and laid to rest.
Nikki feels their absence now more than ever. She's pregnant.
You can't share this news with them?
N. CLEVELAND: No. They're never going to get to meet their grandchild.
KOCH: While the Clevelands try to move on, there's a growing fear here that the rest of the nation has moved on too.
KIDD: My concern is that we're being forgotten. Katrina's no longer the topic of conversation. And it needs to be. So, our biggest plea is please help us.
KOCH: But help is hard to find.
Coming up, I try to find out why.
GENE TAYLOR, CONGRESSMAN: There ought to be a national registry of child molesters and insurance company executives. Because I hold them in the same very low esteem.
KOCH: It's been nearly six months since the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, and not a single destroyed home, not a single grocery store, not a single business on Beach Boulevard has been rebuilt in Bay St. Louis. In some places, it's as if time stood still.
A lucky few, like Tommy Kidd, are finally getting insurance companies to pay for some of the damage.
KIDD: It's not as much as we'd like to have or as much as we'd hope, but the bottom line at this point is, it's something that's getting close enough that we can live with it.
KOCH: But six months after the storm, most here, including Nikki and Patrick Cleveland, have had their claims denied. They can't rebuild, can't even clear their lots.
P. CLEVELAND: Our insurance company is Nationwide and they are not on our side. They are so unorganized. They won't answer the phone. We have to leave a message.
KOCH (on camera): So, I tried calling Nationwide, to see if I could get some answers. I started with the Cleveland's local agent.
Hello, I was trying to reach John French.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, no, Mr. French asked me to tell you that he can't discuss the case because the company won't let him. He said that you have to call Nationwide.
KOCH: All right. So call the corporate office?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, yes, that's right.
KOCH: OK. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Uh huh, bye-bye. KOCH: And corporate held firm.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... adjudicate every claim and, and, and evaluate every claim based on the facts in that specific case.
KOCH: And again, even if all their neighbors around them had wind damage, were paid off for it, and Nationwide says they had none, there's nothing else they can do?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a mediation program in Mississippi, but you'd probably want to talk to the state officials about that.
KOCH (voice-over): So I went to talk with Mississippi's attorney general, who charges insurance companies left deliberately misleading language in people's policies.
JIM HOOD, MISSISSIPPI ATTORNEY GENERAL: They would rather leave it vague until people need insurance. And that's when they come in with the language and where they just deny claims across the board. You know, many of their denials are just in bad faith. They didn't even go out and inspect the properties to determine. They just decided where the elevations were, where the storm surge hit and they just denied claims automatically.
KOCH: So the state is suing the insurance companies on behalf of residents. No insurance company we contacted would talk to us on camera. So, I went to see a spokesperson for the industry.
(on camera): It sounds like many insurance companies are trying to say this is the first hurricane in history that came with no wind, that sustained 125 mile an hour winds, can do no damage. I've stood in 70 mile an hour winds in a hurricane and watched a roof blow off a hotel. How can they say 125 mile an hour winds can do no damage?
CAROLYN GORMAN, INSURANCE INFORMATION INSTITUTE: I think that they do know there was a 28-foot storm surge that came through also...
KOCH: Six hours after the 125 mile an hour sustained winds.
GORMAN: Well, it's a difficult situation.
KOCH (voice-over): My next stop, the office of Congressman Gene Taylor, who represents the people of Bay St. Louis.
GENE TAYLOR, CONGRESSMAN: There ought to be a national registry of child molesters and insurance company executives. Because I hold them in the same very low esteem. KOCH: Congressman Taylor and his family are also victims of Katrina. They lost their home. And their insurance company isn't covering their loss either.
TAYLOR: I had a tin roof on my house. There are pieces of my tin roof 20 to 30 feet up in trees behind where my house used to be, kind of wrapped around and sort of like a taco shell. When they came back with my claim and said there was no wind damage to my house, and I pointed to the tin, they just kind of shrug.
KOCH: The insurance industry insists there are bound to be differences of opinion in a disaster of this magnitude.
GORMAN: The storm is hugely complex. The coverage issues are hugely complex. It's going to take time before all of these issues are resolved.
KOCH: Of course, insurance isn't the only problem. Small business loans are being granted at a snail's pace. And after all this time, there are still residents waiting for FEMA trailers.
Almost everyone is waiting for something here in Bay St. Louis. And while they wait, the town is running on empty. With 70 percent of the businesses still closed, many of the residents gone, there's little money coming into Bay St. Louis.
FAVRE: We can rebuild all we want to, and if we don't have the money to maintain it once it's rebuilt, it didn't do a whole lot of good to rebuild it.
KOCH: You can't run the town.
FAVRE: That's it.
KOCH: While the devastation here is obvious, what you can't see is the ever present optimism many in my town share.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're survivors. So, we're going to make it. We're going to make it.
KOCH: Still, this town is fragile. Hope is tinged with resignation. And there's a growing sense Bay St. Louis may never be the same.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of things are up in the air. I think you're going to lose a lot of good people, too, that just don't want to deal with the storms anymore. They're going to move inland. So, it's going to be a very different kind of town.
D. GOODFELLOW: Believe me, Mississippi Gulf Coast will come back. And I'm sorry to say that we won't be a part of it. It's just too painful.
KOCH (on camera): People here have worked so hard. This town deserves to come back, to be what it once was. And despite all of the delays, all the bureaucracy, all the setbacks, Bay St. Louis will come back, for one simple reason -- because of the people who live here.
I'm Kathleen Koch, in my hometown, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
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