Before this week, I hadn't been to Biloxi, Mississippi, since Katrina hit. Nine months ago, this community looked like it would never be able to recover. But driving around here, the first thing I noticed this place smells different; that "smell of death" that hung in the air for weeks after the storm is gone. Also, the streets are clear. We could actually drive around without detours and rebuilding is in full swing.
We came to Biloxi to meet Bill Stallworth. He is a city councilman who has figured out a way for residents to rebuild their homes without meeting the Federal Emergency Management Agency's new height requirements.
He found a loophole where residents can be grandfathered in even if they don't meet the new standard, which is 22 feet above sea level. This means they can qualify for federal flood insurance even if the home is rebuilt on the ground. Stallworth has already repaired 120 homes with the help of volunteers and he has another 160 partly finished.
Stallworth is an ex-schoolteacher with determination like I've never seen. He is angry at the government for forcing new rules on his community members that they can't afford to follow. Stallworth tells us that 40 percent of residents make less than $15,000.
And it will cost them, FEMA admits, as much as $50,000 in some cases to build their homes higher to meet the new elevation requirements. The new elevation is anywhere between 18 and 25 feet. They simply can't afford that.
One resident, who is 93, even told me she'd never be able to get in and out of a home so high -- too many steps. But FEMA says Stallworth and others are building the homes too low, which is putting residents in jeopardy. Stallworth counters that homes here have survived floods before and they will again, built just the way they are.