Creative and dogged spirit
drives coastal rebuilding
Two years ago Hurricane Katrina was a carefully followed and imminent threat to life and property along the Gulf Coast, but even storm-savvy, long-term residents had no idea what devastation was a day away.
On Aug. 29, 2005, Katrina swept across coastal Mississippi and lower Louisiana, sweeping clean whole towns and neighborhoods, killing 1,800, and leaving 200,000 people without habitable homes.
Today, thousands of now-infamous FEMA trailers still house Mississippi victims, many refugee families who fled have never returned, and the struggle to regain full momentum remains years distant.
Almost everyone agrees that the federal government failed miserably in its immediate response, and it has become only marginally better – aiming toward the long term because of the relentless hammering of influential congressional delegations from Gulf Coast states, principally Mississippi and Louisiana.
Mississippi, it is generally conceded, has fared better than Louisiana because Gov. Haley Barbour and our congressional delegation have done a better job pulling things together programmatically and financially in terms of federal and state involvement. Our state has received $23.5 billion in federal recovery funds; we need about $10 billion more.
The recovery heroes, by all measures, are those who stayed or returned to rebuild, aided by the largest sustained volunteer and private-sector recovery effort in American history.
The efficiency of the private sector, especially non-profit and faith-based organizations, has been an example at which government can only marvel, and amazingly it continues from across the nation and beyond.
The public sector’s role numerically has been impressive in doing the heavy lifting of infrastructure rebuilding, debris removal and clearing of debris-clogged spaces, but reinvestment has not caught up with the empty places where houses, businesses, apartments and community institutions once stood.
Many who survived Hurricane Camille in 1969 say the Mississippi Gulf Coast had only recently returned in 2005 to a full economic stride when Katrina became the next once-in-a-generation storm.
Earlier recoveries provide hope and inspiration for subsequent ones. Mississippi is moving toward long-term goals, and it is apparent in each day’s labor and daily resilience of spirit that nothing about Katrina is short-term.
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