EDITORIAL: Five years out

By NEMS Daily Journal

Today’s fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina – the storm that caused the worst natural disaster in American history – finds the Mississippi Gulf Coast and bordering counties a vastly changed place from in appearance, culture and outlook.
Some of the changes are scars – physical ones on the land and forests and shorelines – and lingering emotional trauma for thousands of people who lost everything and still struggle to regain what they had – and peace of mind most of all.
Some of the changes are decidedly positive – in planning, rebuilding and determination.
No one says the recovery is complete.
Gov. Haley Barbour, whose finest hours of leadership arguably came in the Katrina aftermath, released his annual report on Katrina recovery for the fifth anniversary. It is a statistical measure of the magnitude of damage and the enormity of response provided then and continuing – by the federal government, the state government, the private, not-for-profit sector, and almost one million volunteers who streamed to the coast. The response continues, but the contributions of ordinary people from all 50 states and many foreign nations is extraordinary in hard labor, financial resources, on-site rebuilding, clean-up, and most basic of all, food and clothing and sanitation.
In reviewing who helped in our state’s hours of greatest need the federal response should give every Mississippian pause.
The federal government and its vast array of agencies and methods provided $24 billion in assistance, billions of it flowing directly to individuals whose previous life was gone and who had to have help starting over.
The state’s congressional delegation operated without partisanship, led by the deft skills and experience of Sen. Thad Cochran, who was chairman of Senate Appropriations when Katrina hit. Former Sen. Trent Lot, who lost his historic home in Pascagoula, threw his full energy into restoration, and said he sought another term to help finish what had been started. He retired in late 2007. Equal dedication was given by every other member of the delegation, too, including then U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker, R-Tupelo, who succeeded Lott in the Senate.
Mississippians too often criticize federal spending, but no one should ever forget the fully appropriate measure of generosity extended Mississippi by Congress.
Some of the federal impact is calculated in the recovery’s statistics:
• The state used $3 billion obligated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), matching with other money to rebuild infrastructure.
• Forty-nine counties were made eligible for the Individuals and Households Program. After the storm, applicants were eligible for up to $26,200 under the Individual and Households Program, and more than 520,000 Mississippi households registered for assistance, and more than $1.3 billion was provided in Individual Assistance from FEMA.
• Homeowner assistance totals $2 billion.
• Regional water and wastewater recovery total $641 million.
• Long term workforce housing totals $350 million.
• Public housing totals $110 million
• Port of Gulfport Restoration,, while controversial, totals $570 million.
• Community recovery totals $295 million.
• Economic redevelopment totals $247 million.
Today the coast finds itself dealing doubly with disaster after the manmade BP oil spill caused still uncalculated damage to the coast’s economy, habitat and marine life.
Massive storms are a part of life along the Gulf of Mexico, but some hurricanes are crueler than others. Katrina was cruelest of all, but Mississippians are coming back with the help of a lot of friends.