Waveland Mayor Mike Smith places the a wreath at the monument, which depicts the names of those who lost lives during Hurricane Katrina.

The Ground Zero Hurricane Museum in Waveland on Thursday hosted its annual prayer service to remember the lives lost during 2005's Hurricane Katrina.

Museum director Linda Aiavolasiti said the purpose of the museum is to "educate visitors about hurricanes in general and to show the resilience of our coastal community."

In 2018, more than 3,300 people visited the museum, she said. But as of August 2019, there have already been more than 3,000 visitors.

Aiavolasiti said the majority of visitors are from out of state or out of the country.

"Most of them were not aware of the devastation Katrina created here in Waveland and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast," Aiavolasiti said. "The pictures and the exhibits in the museum do leave a lasting impression. Today, we are previewing our newest exhibit, 'When Wind and Water Speak –– the Voices of Katrina.'"

The video is a compilation of interviews from local residents telling their stories about Katrina, she said.

The video was made possible by a grant from the Mississippi Gulf Coast Heritage Foundation, grant writer and museum board member Donna Martin said.

Jeff Rosenberg, preservation coordinator with the Office of Restoration and Resiliency at the Department of Marine Resources, said that heritage areas are designated by Congress that have a cohesive natural and cultural connection.

There are 55 designated areas throughout the United States, he said. The lower six Mississippi counties were designated in 2004.

"That was a huge help," Rosenberg said. "We were able to leverage that into additional relief funds."

Rosenberg said the building that houses the hurricane museum was also a recipient of a heritage grant.

The purpose of these annual grants are to fund projects that promote nature or cultural-based history and also brick and mortar restoration projects.

"Katrina has had a lasting impact, as do all storms," Rosenberg said. "It not only affects the environment and buildings, but also has a cultural and historical impact as people continue to operate."

Thursday's guests viewed the stories of nine participants including: Aaron and Sandy Brensike, John "Chappy" Chapman, Dr. Bill Bradford, Waveland Mayor Mike Smith, Chuck Benvenutti, Lili-Stahler-Murphy, Brian Mollere, and Cassandra Favre.

Martin said that one never knows how a production like this will be received.

"It's a very touching video and we felt like we put together a video that spoke to the heart," she said. "After the video ended, the auditorium erupted into applause. Tears ran down my face. I was very pleased with the reception from the community. People I didn't know turned to me and told me how much it touched their lives. There was something in everyone's story that told the whole story of Katrina. I think it's going to be a welcome addition to the museum."

Lili Stahler-Murphy, who was instrumental in the opening of the museum and serves as the board president, said many visitors ask about the survivors and want to hear the stories in their own words.

As for her part in the new exhibit, she said that she thinks it's important to present the oral history.

"It wasn't an easy thing to do for any of us, but we've come through it very well," she said. "We've all come such a long way since then. It's an important piece of our own personal history. We don't think about it or want to think about it all the time. The whole thing will be very meaningful to the museum."

At the time of Hurricane Katrina, Mayor Mike Smith said, he was serving as the city's assistant fire chief.

Smith recalled walking down Waveland's streets just after the storm and seeing remnants of people's lives "strewn all over the place.

"Knowing the after effects of what Katrina did to people and what it did to me personally, I certainly wanted to participate in this project," Smith said. "I'm really proud they asked me to be a part of it."

The grant funding not only paid for the production of the video, but also will cover the costs for a separate viewing room with space for guests to sit and view the video.

The plan is for the reading room to be converted into the Katrina Room, Martin said. It is expected to be operational by the end of the year, she added.

Viewings of the video will be allowed upon special request until the room is finished, she said.

Waveland's Ground Zero Hurricane Museum, which also operates as a non-profit, is located at 335 Coleman Ave.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. There is no admission, but donations are accepted.

Learn more at www.wavelandgroundzero.com and through Facebook at Ground Zero Hurricane Museum. Contact museum staff at 228-467-9012.

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