Recover.

By Lawrence Hardy

Her office already had been broken into, so keys weren’t necessary. Pushing in the door, Superintendent Kim Stasny waded through the muck, thick and sticky and infused with a grotesque smell she will never forget.

Shell-shocked squatters already were huddled in the nearby Second Street Elementary School, the historic gem of Mississippi’s Bay St. Louis-Waveland School District. The school was inundated with the same smelly mud that had invaded the administration building next door. It will never function as a school again.

Watching it all was an exhausted police officer, barefoot and sitting in her patrol car. She had broken into Stasny’s office to find keys to the elementary school. She had searched the squatters’ belongings and confiscated one shotgun.

This was the scene in part of Bay St. Louis on Aug. 31, 2005, two days after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. In the weeks that followed, Stasny and her staff found themselves struggling to rebuild a school system in a surreal world where nothing resembled what it had once been and the most basic services -- water, electricity, telephone, and cell phone service -- were absent. In this once quaint and vibrant town, the days following the storm were sweltering, the nights shrouded in silence and utter darkness. “And everywhere you went,” says Stasny, “there was that smell.”

For Bay St. Louis and other stricken districts, the routines of school would never be the same. And yet, from the moment Katrina left the shattered Gulf Coast, there was a determined effort to get back to normal -- whatever “normal” meant in the context of one of the most devastating natural disasters in American history. 

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