PICAYUNE - Hurricane Katrina's storm surge never reached this small town, but its driving winds certainly did.
Many residents have left their FEMA trailers and returned to their homes, but more than a thousand people here remain in temporary housing. The pace of recovery is fast, however, and it is difficult to tell in some areas that the storm ever came.
City officials say the real challenge in the recovery is how to adapt to an influx of people and cars that aren't going anywhere soon.
Eight months after the storm, the population is estimated to be more than 32,000, twice its pre-storm number. City services and utilities are stressed but manageable, and proposals to expand the sewer system are being discussed. The demands on City Hall have become so great that the scheduled relocation of operations to the old Arizona Chemical building off Goodyear Boulevard were drastically accelerated.
The housing shortage is a concern, but Mayor Greg Mitchell has said tentative plans are under way for more than 3,000 new homes to be built near U.S. 43. Meanwhile, displaced residents wait out the recovery in one of the city's three dwindling FEMA parks at the old municipal airport on Union Road.
Traffic, Mitchell admits, is a bear at the moment. It was a big problem before the storm, and the load on city roadways has only worsened. The traffic flow has helped local businesses, to the tune of a $100,000 sales tax revenue increase every month since Katrina. And while residents complain that their small-town way of life is vanishing, they are happy their economy is improving and jobs are being created.
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.
Traffic congestion in Picayune has become so bad that many residents complain their small-town way of life is vanishing. Many of the town's roads were not made for the amount of traffic now in the area.
What Katrina did
Many of the houses in Picayune sustained roof damage from trees and high winds. The houses that had storm water inside had less than 6 inches at most. Only a small handful of buildings were destroyed by the high winds.