Tommy Longo, mayor of Waveland, Miss., was in Wayland, Mass., to help the Wayland to Waveland Hurricane Katrina Relief Committee (W2W) kick off a multimillion dollar project to build eight homes in the small southern Gulf Coast city.
Longo was the featured speaker at a press conference on Sept. 10 hosted by the Wayland Board of Selectmen. He appeared with members of W2W and many of the eight builders participating in the project. A handful of townspeople who volunteered last year also spoke.
The $1.6 million project will build new homes for eight Waveland families who have been selected by W2W and the city of Waveland and other agencies.
The new homes will be built during a 16-week period from October through February organized by the W2W, a team of eight eastern Massachusetts premier home builders, and dozens of contracting firms and suppliers located throughout the Boston area.
The second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (Aug. 29) found Waveland still quite devastated, but slowly making a comeback, according to Longo.
Approximately 60 percent of residents have returned to the city, although many are still living in FEMA trailers on their property and approximately 60 percent of the schools are back in operation. With so much property not being used, the city’s income from real estate taxes is down to 20 percent of the pre-storm level.
Sales tax revenue is back to near pre-Katrina levels and this is allowing the city to operate without having to borrow for day-to-day operational needs.
Federal funding is paying for massive reconstruction of the water and sewer infrastructure, which is approximately 90 percent complete. Once that has been completed, reconstruction can begin in earnest.
W2W’s project is an unprecedented effort to rebuild lives and a community mostly forgotten, according to organizers. Much attention has been given to New Orleans and other major metropolitan areas and ports. Tiny Waveland — the bulls-eye for Katrina — continues to struggle. It was hit by the hurricane’s eye, which pushed up a 38-ft. storm surge that, with wave action, resulted in a 50-ft. high wall of water being pushed through the town, wiping out almost every structure.
The Wayland, Mass.-based group picked Waveland because of the extensive devastation it suffered, and the lack of attention it was getting from government officials.
For two years W2W has worked to help clean up and rebuild Waveland. Now, with the help of some major Massachusetts home builders, aid is getting focused on Waveland. This will be the largest contingent of skilled workers to invade Waveland.
The project is a massive undertaking, made possible by the determination and commitment volunteered by Ken Vona of Kenneth Vona Construction in Waltham, Mass., who wanted to make a major impact with his effort.
He has organized another half dozen large builders, representing seven eastern-Massachussets communities, and many other area subcontractors and suppliers, to contribute manpower, tools, materials and more to this three-month effort.
The group of builders also includes: the Mitchell Construction Group Inc. of Medfield; Twin Peaks Construction LLC of Norwood; Thoughtforms Corporation Builders of West Acton; Gallagher Home Builders Inc. of Maynard; Whitla Brothers Builders of Medfield; CMG Builders of Rowley; and Custom Designs Inc. of Wayland. Custom Designs owner Peter Bachman led the effort last October to rebuild three homes in Waveland for W2W.
More than 400 skilled professionals are signed up to be on the ground in Waveland, working seven days a week. The workers will take a break only for the 12 days of Christmas.
All eight lots are now under ownership and preparations have already begun to clear the properties and set foundation slabs in advance of the work starting in October. Four of the properties are near the west side of town where W2W has been working with homeowners. Four others are closer to what was the town center, but is currently just a group of large trailers standing in for City Hall, which was destroyed in the storm.
W2W has been working with Lagniappe, a Presbyterian Church group, based in Bay Saint Louis, Miss., which is adjacent to Waveland and shares a school district. Together, they have secured the eight properties on which they will build homes for eight needy and qualified families. So far, five of these families have been selected and are presented on the group’s Web site.
Volunteers, Donations Needed
W2W is seeking volunteers from Wayland and area communities for a wide range of tasks, from construction to supply management and from cooking to transportation.
During a similar effort last fall, approximately 60 volunteers, including Wayland high school students, went to Waveland and helped to build homes.
W2W has set up a system for volunteers to sign up on its Web site. Donations also are needed.
Established in 2005, W2W is a public/private partnership aimed at providing long-term support to the residents of Waveland, Miss., who sustained major losses from Hurricane Katrina. This support has been in the form of developing personal relationships, assisting in the rebuilding effort, and leveraging the skills and resources that Wayland residents, and others, can offer.
In the first year of its relief “waves,” W2W built one home from the ground up and refurbished another home that was reduced to a shell by the storm. It also helped a third person salvage a home and make it liveable and did a number of other small cleanup projects throughout the tiny city on the coast.
The W2W group hopes many Waylanders will “catch the next wave” by volunteering to work locally and/or travel to Waveland to work on the new homes.
Waveland was “Ground Zero” during Hurricane Katrina. Although some homes are being rebuilt, many families who lost everything do not have the means to rebuild. The city is recovering slowly.
For more information, visit www.waylandtowaveland.org.