Hancock County, Mississippi

After Katrina, counties rebuild and elevate structures

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina nearly wiped out Hancock County, Mississippi, leveling homes and businesses and leaving thousands of residents with nowhere to go. A number of grant programs, including Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and others, were tapped to acquire, rebuild or elevate thousands of homes across Hancock, Harrison and Jackson Counties and to rebuild several iconic structures.

Photo by Mark Wolfe - FEMA

Community facts

Population
46,420
Homes
24,083
Businesses
3,586
Source: US Census Bureau.

Mitigation actions

FEMA and the CDBG program supported thousands of acquisitions and home-elevation projects from 2005 to 2011, ensuring that even homeowners outside the flood zone had resources to rebuild or relocate. FEMA covered 75% of the cost, and CDBG grants made up the difference. FEMA resources were also used to rebuild the Hancock County Courthouse and Medical Center; the Waveland City Hall and Municipal Complex; the Biloxi Civic Center and Library; and the famous Biloxi Lighthouse, which came to represent the resiliency of the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Katrina.

These investments helped Hancock County to bounce back from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, providing citizens with a place to live and work after their lives were interrupted. “Communities like Bay St. Louis were nearly wiped off the map,” says John Mabry, VP of disaster recovery for IEM, a global security consultancy. "But thanks to these investments, the community has since been revitalized."

Benefits of mitigation

Economic benefits
$5.6 million
Total monetized benefits
Return on investment
25%
Estimated return on investment
Benefit-cost ratio
1.3
Benefit-cost ratio of the Hancock County projects
Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency (2012). Mississippi Loss Avoidance Study, Hancock, Harrison and Jackson Counties.

Project challenges

Disaster relief grant programs worked together to support families devastated by flooding outside of the flood zone.

Hurricane Katrina was so devastating that many of the hardest-hit homes were outside the flood zone, which meant that owners had no flood insurance or mitigation features. This left them with few resources to enable them to rebuild, and limited their ability to sell their homes even if they repaired the damage. In response, FEMA partnered with CDBG to support 100% of the cost of elevation and buyout projects for homes within and outside of the flood zone so that these residents could recover and rebuild.

“We had to build back smarter and stronger to protect the community and to avoid future losses”
Jon Mabry, former COO of the Mississippi Development Authority and current VP of disaster recovery for IEM, a global security consulting firm.

Future considerations

Preliminary Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps are displayed at a flood map open house in Hancock County.
Photo by Jennifer Smits - FEMA
Permanent maintenance covenants ensure that rebuilt properties will remain resilient forever

To ensure that investments in rebuilding and elevating damaged homes continue to benefit the community, grant programs' leaders have required that every home receiving grant funds have a covenant placed on the property mandating current and future owners to maintain flood mitigation features and to take out flood insurance. The covenant stays with the property in perpetuity, and monitoring programs help to ensure that maintenance work is performed. The covenants are an important part of the goal of building back bigger, better and stronger. Hurricane Isaac hit Hancock County in 2012, but this time residents were prepared.

Flood mitigation resources

Below is a non-exhaustive list of other flood mitigation information resources.