Hurricane Katrina

Diamond in the rough

DIAMONDHEAD - Drive through the quiet streets of The Oaks neighborhood, and life almost seems as though it's back to normal.

Sure, a few homes have been gutted, a couple still have blue roofs and a few have trailers parked on the side.

But most of the homes have freshly cut grass, flowers growing in beds and new roofs. Much of the debris has been removed, and the character of the neighborhood that draws people in and makes them feel welcome seems to have returned.

Tom Dempsey had a home on pilings south of Mississippi 603 and still got 28 feet of water. He and his wife moved to Diamondhead two days before Thanksgiving and said the area has been cleaned up and repaired greatly since that time.

"It's been a 100 percent improvement," he said. "Diamondhead is like another world up here."

Many residents of The Oaks neighborhood evacuated for Hurricane Katrina, but they weren't afraid of flooding; rather, they feared the wind. They should have feared both.

Merline and George Johnson expected to find trees on their home when they returned from Pensacola after Katrina. What they found was more than two feet of water and so much mold they had to remove all their Sheetrock.

She credits FEMA, the Corps of Engineers and volunteers for helping the neighborhood.

"The volunteers that we had in here cleaned out homes, got trees off of roofs and cleaned up yards," Merline Johnson said. "There's some areas in Diamondhead that look like there never was a storm.

"The cooperation and everything was wonderful out here."

The Johnsons plan to sell their home and travel in a motor home, which they've always wanted to do, but they won't ever leave the Coast for good.

"We're going to stay in the area," she said. "This is home."

The series

The Sun Herald this month continues its 30 Communities in 30 Days series, which looks at how area neighborhoods are recovering from Hurricane Katrina. We will update these stories every six months.

What Katrina did

Most of the homes in The Oaks in Diamondhead are still standing, but many received water, some as high as 15 feet. Other homes had trees fall through them. Some residents have moved to the neighborhood from other hurricane-stricken areas, while others' repairs are complete. There are a few trailers outside homes as residents fix the mess Katrina made.