Mississippi Remembers its Katrina Dead on Road to Recovery

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Two unidentified victims of

Hurricane Katrina

are being laid to rest Tuesday as Mississippi's

Gulf Coast

marks the storm's anniversary with a day of both mourning and celebration.

All along the scarred Mississippi coast, workers and families gathered for remembrances — a sunrise service in Waveland, a casino reopening in Biloxi, film presentations recounting of Katrina's fury and the yearlong fight to survive.

Katrina killed 231 people in Mississippi and wiped away whole communities. Stately homes that once fronted the beach and apartments blocks inland were swept away by a wall of storm surge that gutted glitzy casinos and propelled several of the hulking barges ashore.

A year later, most of the debris is gone and humid air is filled with sounds of recovery.

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On the town green in Biloxi about 500 yards from the shore, several hundred people gathered Tuesday among live oak trees for a commemoration service.

"The sun is shining on us today and you know a year ago, we would've been treading water right here," said U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., who commended state and local officials for their part in the recovery efforts.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the nation is grateful that coast residents chose to rebuild their communities "bigger and better" after Katrina.

"It's hard to think about what it was like a year ago when that very tranquil sea rose up and became a mighty fist that crushed miles along this coast and killed dozens and dozens of people," Chertoff said.

Gov. Haley Barbour thanked the thousands of volunteers who have aided the area, as well as the federal government. And he praised the residents of the Gulf Coast.

"There's nothing as important and nothing that gives me as much confidence and optimism as the spirit of the people who live on our Gulf Coast," Barbour said in Biloxi.

In a Gulfport park overlooking the Mississippi Sound, 500 gathered for an early morning memorial service to honor the 14 people who died in the city during the storm. Firefighters police and paramedics carried red roses to the front of the stage and placed them in a vase to mark each victim.

Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr read out the name of each victim. At each name, an emergency worker saluted and a bell was struck.

Carolyn Bozzetti, 60, the daughter of one of the dead, had had moved to Houston after her home was destroyed but returned for the service. Her Father, Barney Anderson, 83, died when he and his ailing wife stayed to ride out the storm.

"I'm hoping this is a step forward," she said as she clutched a rose. "I've been crying for a year. I'm tired of crying."

At a a city-owned cemetery in Gulfport, the two anonymous storm victims will be buried side-by-side in matching silver caskets. A priest, a rabbi and a minister will join in leading the graveside service since authorities don't know the men's religious faiths.

Although their identities are a mystery, the men won't be buried without names. Gary Hargrove, the coroner for the coast's most populous county, said their graves soon will have markers that, along with their physical descriptions, identify them as "Will" and "Strength."

"'Will' represents the will of the people to move on. 'Strength' represents the strength of the people to rebuild together," said Hargrove, whose jurisdiction in Harrison County includes Gulfport and Biloxi.

One of the victims is described as a black man between 25 and 35 years old, about 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds. He had a scar near his right hip and a "Love Jones" tattoo on his left forearm.

The other victim is described as a white man between 60 and 70 years old, about 5-foot-9 and 250 pounds. An autopsy revealed that the tip of his left ring finger and a knuckle on one of his middle fingers had been amputated.

Hargrove is keeping samples of their DNA in hopes that one day a match can be made.

"Hopefully one day I'll be able to return them to their families," he said.

In Waveland, the memorial service was to be followed by an afternoon parade.

"We're celebrating life," Mayor Tommy Longo said of the parade. "We're showing our appreciation to the volunteers and faith-based organizations that have been here for the last year, helping us."

Also marking the anniversary were a number of the thousands of volunteers who begin arriving in waves arrived soon after Katrina's departure. Volunteers continue to help with rebuilding homes and businesses today.

One of the first to arrive on the coast was Suzanne Stahl, 40, of Phoenix. On a whim, the mortgage broker canceled vacation plans and flew to Mississippi two days after the storm hit.

The anniversary marks her 10th visit to the region, mostly as a volunteer for Hands On Gulf Coast, a disaster response group spawned by Katrina.

"There's so much need," Stahl said, choking back tears. "This area is so overlooked. Most people couldn't even tell you that the hurricane made landfall here."

Jake Rosetti, 56, a retired school teacher, is slowly rebuilding the remnants of the Biloxi home that Katrina flooded with nine feet of water.

"It's taking me longer because I'm doing it myself," said Rosetti, who estimates it will be a few more months before he and his wife, Victoria, can move out of a rental cottage and back into the house.

His wife wants to leave and move out of harm's way, but Rosetti is committed to rebuilding the home his parents built the year he was born.

"I couldn't just let the rest of it crumble," he said. "I'm going to build it back a lot better than it was."

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