Two years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, coastal Mississippi and Alabama, Father Tracey’s shore hugging parish, Our Lady of the Gulf in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi is looking forward to a future on a footing that, hopefully, will be solid enough to resist nature’s next assault.
In the meantime, Tracey’s parish is bracing for an invasion of politicians led by President Bush.
The president is due to visit Our Lady of the Gulf today, the second anniversary of the most devastating hurricane in U.S. history.
Bush will attend a commemorative event in the parish community center, subjected in recent days to the full rigor of a Secret Service scrutiny sweep.
The center is just yards from the church that was struck by a wall of water in the early hours of August 29, 2005.
The storm surge, which topped 30 feet, devastated the interior of Our Lady of the Gulf and completely destroyed the parish rectory and offices.
All that was left was the concrete foundation of Tracey’s American home.
Father Tracey has been camping out in his trailer since those disastrous days.
“But we have made a lot of progress,” he told the Echo on the eve of Katrina plus two.
Tracey said that Bay St. Louis, a little over an hour’s drive east of New Orleans, was making fast progress in reconstruction than the still troubled Big Easy.
“Being a much smaller community there is not so much red tape or so many logistics,” he said.
But that doesn’t imply a complete absence of either.
“There are still big problems ahead,” Tracey said.
One of them is insurance for the parish and its various buildings, including the community center and a school.
The annual bill was $44,000 up until Katrina. From now on it will be starting at $97,000.
And the cost of rebuilding in the area has gone through the roof due to strict new building codes and surging construction costs. Many local people living close to the shore were retired and living on fixed incomes. They have been the slowest to return and rebuild.
“I’m still living in my trailer but we have plans approved for the new rectory and offices. We hope to start building in September,” said Fr. Tracey.
The total cost for the combined residence and offices is expected to exceed a million dollars.
For the price, the building will be expected to cope better with a hurricane such as Katrina, a category 3 when it came ashore.
New buildings will have to be hurricane “proof: as opposed to just “resistant”, said Tracey, a native of Killawalla near Westport, County Mayo but who has lived in the U.S. since the 1970s, said.
Tracey said that his parish, and the surrounding community, was still benefiting from volunteers from around the U.S. who were helping in the post-Katrina rebuilding.
“But there is now a particular need for more skilled workers such as electricians, carpenters, plumbers and roofers,” he said.