Katrina taught the people of South Mississippi lessons others would do well to study if they're hit by a natural disaster.
The 2005 storm buried the Coast in millions of cubic yards of debris, creating a mountain of problems for residents.
But one word emerged from the rubble, and it was used again and again to describe South Mississippi -- resilient.
"We learned a lot of lessons from Katrina," said Bay St. Louis Mayor Les Fillingame. "I don't think there's anything that we could have done that wasn't done. When you have a chance to completely start over, there are some great things you can do."
It has been a long haul, though. People were stuck in FEMA trailers for years. Millions of dollars were stolen.
By December 2007, in fact, FEMA estimated almost $500 million that was supposed to go to victims of Katrina and Rita already had been lost to fraud at the hands of 134,000 scammers.
FEMA paid more than $7 billion in individual assistance claims to victims of the storms, it reported in 2011. About 10 percent of that, it estimated, went to those who were ineligible.
The GAO estimated FEMA paid $20 million to people who made claims on the same property for both Katrina and Rita, which followed about two weeks later.
FEMA also poured millions into the devastated cities along the Coast.
Fillingame served as recovery director under then-Mayor Eddie Favre's administration. He's now in his second term as mayor.
Fillingame said leaders across the Coast can boast of "bigger and better" cities and counties because of Katrina. South Mississippi is better equipped to handle potentially devastating storms because of the lessons learned since Aug. 29, 2005.
Hurricane Isaac and its 12-foot storm surge in 2012 showed us that, he said.
"The big story was the damage that didn't happen," he said.
The Coast can thank then-Gov. Haley Barbour for much of that progress.
He created the Governor's Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal, then tackled the state's three R's like a business with a budget of federally appropriated billions.
He handpicked a dedicated team to manage the $5.5 billion check Congress signed for Mississippi's short-term and long-term recovery.
One of those was Jon Mabry, who remains chief operations officer for the disaster recovery division of the Mississippi Development Authority.
The team worked with federal, state, county and city officials to rebuild the Coast with the goal of making it better than before.
Now other states are following in Barbour's footsteps by using the map created in Katrina's aftermath, Mabry said.
"We started with a blank sheet of paper," he said. Before they could rebuild the Coast, they had to design the programs to do it.
The commission created programs to oversee the reconstruction of infrastructure and housing, business assistance, jobs and tourism.
The Homeowner Assistance Program and the Mississippi Renaissance Corp. helped get people back in their homes. About 60,000 homes and rental units had been damaged or destroyed.
The Coast went from people living in 48,000 FEMA trailers to none, Mabry said.
About 2,400 Mississippi cottages were brought in, said Kim La Rosa, executive director of the Mississippi Renaissance Corp.
Gulfport's downtown, refurbished with federal money, has a nightlife far more vibrant than before the storm. Nearby Jones Park is a vastly improved. Downtowns in Long Beach, Bay St. Louis and Ocean Springs have bounced back as well.
Still, huge chunks of beachfront property remain vacant. The Point in Biloxi has far fewer people living there than it had before the storm wiped it out. But the city's downtown is undergoing something of a renaissance, with several new restaurants opening.
Homeowners haven't had an easy road to recovery.
Hundreds sued their insurance companies over wind vs. water damage. Insurance policies don't cover storm surge and other flood losses. Major insurers denied wind claims where Katrina's unprecedented surge contributed to the loss.
Policyholders were vindicated by a Mississippi Supreme Court ruling that concluded wind causes separate losses insurers are obligated to cover even when properties are subjected to storm surge. To deny coverage, the court said, insurance companies must prove water caused the loss.
The ruling came more than four years after the hurricane -- too late for most policyholders, who had settled their claims based on earlier, erroneous rulings from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Affordable housing key
Finding affordable housing became key to growing back the Coast.
"We were really meant to find an affordable housing solution to make it make sense for them to move back to the area," La Rosa said.
Many who moved away have returned, but the majority of those are keeping a safe distance from the water that defines the Coast's landscape.
La Rosa believes more attention should be given to the area south of Interstate 10.
"Until our flood insurance issues are addressed on the Coast, I'm just not sure we're going to see that come back," she said. "I certainly hope I see that. We have a lot of really good folks working on solutions and I believe we will come up with that solution."
The main lesson
Eight years after Katrina, the Coast is much better prepared for another monster, officials said.
Residents take hurricane warnings seriously.
"They prepare. They buy their supplies," Harrison County Emergency Manager Rupert Lacy said. "It's not the mad rush we saw before Katrina."
People can also stay put more easily.
With Katrina dollars, some hurricane shelters were made more durable. New shelters were purpose-built to withstand high winds.
Now residents don't have to run too far to get out of the path of a storm.
"That helps the resident not have to get on the road as quickly," he said. "They can stay within their respective communities, ride the storm out and then get back to their home, check on properties and do what needs to be done."
Lacy said recovering from future storms will be easier because the sewer, water and power grids have been rebuilt to a higher standard.
"We pretty much got a makeover after Katrina and that makes a world of difference," he said.
Hurricane Isaac has been the worst storm to hit South Mississippi since 2005.
"Isaac showed us that we could see 16-plus inches of rain," he said. "We try to prepare for the worst and hope for the best."