Hurricane Katrina

Lucedale now a haven for hurricane evacuees

LUCEDALE - On Dottie Street eight months after Katrina, there are hopeful sprigs of dogwood sprouting in the bark of an uprooted tree stump that waits for a grinder.

Most of the downed trees on the upscale street are gone now, but a few stumps and roots remain.

The dogwood in Bill and Laura Ballow's yard is one of eight trees they lost. Of the remaining cleanup, she said, "That will come when people aren't so busy."

In this community with roots in the lumber industry, the loss of trees was the hurricane's biggest and most immediate effect.

But there's another effect very noticeable today.

"The city still has more people due to evacuees," said Laura Ballow. "You can tell from the traffic that it's busier." Stores have longer lines and restaurants have longer waits, she said.

"Lucedale always has been a small town," said the Ballows' neighbor, Susanne Whites. "It didn't take you any time to get in traffic and get somewhere. It's not like it used to be. It just takes a little longer now.

"Our grandson is trying to rent a house and there is not a house to rent in Lucedale."

Some of the newcomers are people who work in Biloxi or Pascagoula, lost homes on the Coast and are buying property in Lucedale, said her husband, Dayton Whites, the mayor of Lucedale.

Others are in FEMA trailers, only six or seven in Lucedale but almost 400 in the surrounding county.

Accidents and crime have increased, the mayor said, but Lucedale has also gained a new permanent employer, SIM&S, a communications and technology systems company that does work for FEMA and has hired 52 local people at starting salaries of about $12.50 an hour.

A new neighbor from Pennsylvania is moving in across Dottie Street from the Whites, a family that originally planned to move to the Coast, but not after Katrina.

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

The hurricane blew down a lot of trees both on Dottie Street properties and throughout Lucedale, but did minimal structural damage. In the aftermath, there has been a strong increase in traffic, shoppers, accidents and crime credited to an influx of evacuees who lost their homes along the Coast.