Mississippi’s Recovery After Katrina Holds Lessons for Policy Makers

28 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

10 years after Katrina, Gulf still rebuilding, still remembering.

When the hurricane roared in from the Gulf of Mexico, it crushed pretty beachfront towns like Pass Christian and Waveland under a 28-foot surge and wrecked the cities of Gulfport and Biloxi, ripping up the Port of Gulfport and tossing around the floating casinos. —Scattered applause greeted Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich in a newly constructed stadium as he threw the ceremonial first pitch for the city’s minor-league baseball team, the Shuckers. — The car creeps along mile after mile of nothingness along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, passing empty parking lots and rows of vacant yards overlooking sugar-white man-made beaches and a calm sea.

Reflections offered by two important emergency management leaders indicate that Katrina is still fresh in their minds, and that its lessons continue to be applied. Where once sat antebellum mansions now sit clipped green lawns with magnolia trees and moss-draped live oaks, concrete slab foundations and grand brick steps leading nowhere. “This is the boulevard of broken dreams,” said Rebecca Kremer Kajdan, 54, who was born and raised in Gulfport and has worked for five mayors. Now it is easy to see the rebuilt and the missing: the empty lots where stately beachfront homes once stood and the new civic buildings in otherwise modest coastal communities. Since Hurricane Katrina hit a decade ago, Biloxi’s population has dropped 9.4% to 44,984 and many houses remain vacant. “People all around the country who moved away, they’re looking for an excuse to come back, to move back home,” Mr. More than a million residents were displaced from their homes. “It was very difficult to experience,” said third-grade teacher Tammy Raymond, a Bay St.

Since Katrina, for example, Alabama’s Emergency Management Agency has developed response teams distributed around the state: The idea is that no matter which region gets hit, the agency and local assets can mobilize quickly and rally to the scene. “I think Katrina, one of the biggest lessons learned … you have to have a capacity at the state and local level,” said Art Faulkner, state EMA director. So when she drives to work at the newly built city hall here, she plays a memory game. “I look at every lot and tell myself what used to be there,” Kajdan said, pointing out lost landmarks. “Ruby Tuesday was on this corner. New Orleans may have gotten most of the attention, but the experience here may be just as instructive for those debating the weighty policy questions raised by the nation’s costliest natural disaster: what a 10-year recovery truly feels like, how to spilt up resources between grand ambition and pressing reality, and who is ultimately deserving of government help. “Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy some days,” said Tommy Belk, who for nearly all of the past 10 years has lived in a trailer with enormous holes in the roof, the scars left by Hurricane Katrina.

More than ever, that run of big hits – Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne – made him a believer in mutual assistance among neighboring states. “Some of the fastest and best response is not going to be from the federal government, it’s going to be from your next-door neighbors,” Fugate said. “States helping each other out.” “I think the big lesson that we learned that we try to emphasize all the time is, you cannot prepare for what you’re capable of doing and then hope it’s not any worse,” Fugate said. “You’ve got to prepare for what can happen. And beyond the ballpark, the area still shows signs of scars after a 28-foot wall of water hurled casino boats into neighborhoods and swept away buildings on Aug. 29, 2005. She teamed up with the “Where Angels Play” Foundation led by a group of New Jersey firefighters who responded to the 9/11 attacks. “Third graders from Waveland sent us cards back in 2001 to cheer us up during 9/11,” said Bill Lavin, founder of “Where Angels Play.” “When the hurricane hit the coast and schools were destroyed, we felt the need to pay it forward to them,” Now many New Jersey firefighters volunteer their time to help children in need across the country. Their latest project: a $140,000 handicap-accessible playground to honor the Bane family in the city of Waveband. “The moms and dads of these children that were lost are really the true heroes,” said Lavin. “They are the inspiration. They have honored their angels who will watch over kids for generations to come.” Kyle Rothenberg is part of the Junior Reporter program at Fox News.

If the locals have to do it by themselves until they fail, and only then does the state kick in, and then the state’s got to fail before feds get involved. We saw the images of people heading to the Superdome, which was called the “refuge of last resort” for those who were unable to get out of the city.

In a disaster, the various levels of government have to work as one team.” In some respects, the team approach got field-tested in this state in 2011, when deadly tornadoes tore through Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and dozens of smaller communities in north Alabama. “There was teams from all over the state that were coming from areas that hadn’t been hit going to those that had been,” Fugate said. “And that was all being managed at the local and state level. I also remember a fellow meteorologist sending me the now famous “doomsday statement” written by National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Ricks: HURRICANE KATRINA…A MOST POWERFUL HURRICANE WITH UNPRECEDENTED STRENGTH…RIVALING THE INTENSITY OF HURRICANE CAMILLE OF 1969. In addition, residential and commercial development has become costlier due to higher insurance rates and new federal building codes intended to better protect structures along the coastline, economists and officials say. Meteorologists had never seen a statement like that, and they haven’t seen one like it since.I read that warning on air in front of that angry, swirling satellite image behind me.

Today, where grand houses once stood near the waterfront, empty lots are marked by gnarled oaks, overgrown grass and foundations and steps—all that’s left of destroyed properties. Nearly 20% of Biloxi housing units were vacant in 2010, up from 11.4% in 2000, according to census data. “My daughter thinks it’s common to drive down Highway 90 and see slabs,” said Joy Yates, 47 years old, who has worked as an assistant for Biloxi’s county coroner for 18 years and helped collect bodies in the days after Katrina. Fugate offers a sobering thought about the relatively light tropical weather activity in the decade since Katrina: “When Governor Jindal steps down (in Louisiana), there will be no governor along the Gulf Coast that’s had a Category 3 or greater landfall of a hurricane.” Technically, that hurricane, Gustav, had dropped to a Category 2 by the time it slogged into Louisiana in 2008.

But the Barbour administration insisted that housing needs had been overestimated and were being fully met — at least by the state’s determination. Some people can’t evacuate because of transportation issues or because they can’t afford to pay for gas, food or a hotel for a several days, even weeks. The storm hit the mouth of the Pearl River, bringing with it winds of more than 150 mph, great walls of waves and 28-foot storm surges, hurling its warm breath counterclockwise. And he stressed the importance of evacuation to coastal Alabama, in particular given that Interstate 10 continues to be a bottleneck, especially when evacuations are called in more than one state. The total civilian labor force along the state’s Gulf Coast, from Gulfport to Pascagoula, is down 4.9% from its level in August 2005, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

People can also get “storm fatigue,” meaning they are just tired of weather events disrupting their lives and don’t want to leave their homes over and over. Major employers include tourism-related companies, military bases such as Keesler Air Force Base, which has faced recent cutbacks, and the seafood industry, challenged by the 2010 oil spill and competition from imports. Barbour said. “We were told expressly that was a precedent they were not willing to set, for the simple reason that it would discourage people from buying homeowners insurance.” Mississippi’s initial housing assistance was limited to people who had insurance but whose homes were damage by storm surge. It lifted hastily abandoned ship-cargo trailers off piers and slung them into towns, where they split open, filling the streets with the stench of rotting pork bellies and boxed chicken.

This plan required waivers of United States Department of Housing and Urban Development rules directing such grants be spent mostly to help low-income residents. Programs were later expanded to include many poor and uninsured homeowners and renters, but, unlike in Louisiana, continued to exclude wind damage — the more likely problem for people who lived in less affluent areas farther inland.

As a forecaster, the only thing I can do is remind people to be alert, stay focused and know what you’re going to do if there’s a storm on the way. The wind and water may be gone, but Katrina’s reach remains. “We caught the bad side of the storm,” said Billy Hewes, Gulfport’s mayor. “Our coast lost its physical history.

In the fiscal year ended September 2013, tax on gambling revenue represented nearly 36% of general fund revenue, the largest individual contributor, according to a city budget document. The storm reduced it to kindling wood.” Although much of the nation focused on the damage to New Orleans caused by levee failures, the immense destruction to Mississippi was caused by a direct hit from nature. The storm, which sent hurricane-force winds 200 miles inland, left more than 100,000 people homeless, put thousands more out of work — the unemployment rate soared to nearly 25 percent after the storm — and caused at least $25 billion in damage, state officials said. Biloxi saw a big drop in casino revenue the year after Katrina, then a surge the following year, helped by the influx of relief and construction workers. Downtowns have been transformed into what the state’s recovery commission calls a “Mississippi Renaissance.” Harbors have been rebuilt to better withstand future storms.

Can we just go somewhere and let this place rebuild somehow, someway?” But the 42 year-old, who owns Smash Clothing in Biloxi’s Edgewater Mall, decided to stay, “to have stability for my family and myself.” Adrienne C. Phil Bryant (R). “Homes and public structures are rebuilt to more disaster-resistant standards, and businesses are open and thriving.” “Not bad,” allowed Pass Christian Mayor Leo “Chipper” McDermott during a ride down the city’s Scene Drive, where empty lots now feature historic markers instead of historic mansions. “There was one point we got down to 900 people.” In Gulfport, a city of 73,000 in 2005, 9,571 houses were damaged or destroyed, said city administrator John R. It laid miles of new water and sewer lines, built a $21 million police headquarters, upgraded 11 fire stations, replaced its harbor, restored 70 historic buildings. The city built loft spaces for artists. “As bad as the storm was, and it was a horrible storm,” Kelly said, “what I would tell you 10 years later is I don’t think I could talk to a single person here at the time of Katrina who would not acknowledge they are better off after the storm.” His little white house is gone.

Barbour’s successor as governor, Phil Bryant, ordered ambitions scaled down and directed the port to focus on finding jobs, even those not in the maritime industry. Mississippi officials now say the target number of 1,300 new jobs will be met by 2019, a new deadline recently agreed to by HUD, which is pressing the state to penalize the Mississippi State Port Authority if the goals are not met. The port has picked up some new tenants, celebrated the opening of an on-site hotel and begun the work in earnest of expanding the port’s footprint. “From the time that we’ve actually started construction, we’re moving very rapidly,” said Jonathan Daniels, the port authority’s executive director. He contends that state officials stole a chunk of the land where his family’s restaurant was located so the city could build a seawall for its new harbor — an allegation the state denies. Ken Murphy and his brothers, Ray Murphy, 60, and Audie “Rock” Murphy, 59, had renovated the restaurant in June 2005, renaming it Daniel’s Southbeach. “Exactly 90 days later,” Ken Murphy said, “Katrina struck,” flattening it.

Murphy’s family argued in court that they had a deed proving that their land extended to the water’s edge, and that the state had claimed their property without due process. In Biloxi, cars on Highway 90 whiz past the gleaming white Yacht Club, which overlooks a white beach with imported palm trees, past the hot-pink Sharkheads Biloxi Beach premier gift shop with a giant shark-tooth entrance, and past Beauvoir, the antebellum seaside home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, now restored to its original grandeur. The highway winds past eight busy casinos — including the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Harrah’s Gulf Coast, and the Beau Rivage — with fine-dining restaurants and a championship luxury golf course.

At the height of the storm, he and his mother were trying to help her brother, known as “the Birdman of Long Beach,” rescue 30 exotic birds, including macaws that the uncle kept in cages behind his house a block off Highway 90. He got sick and lost weight. “I fell hard in terms of drugs,” he said. “For at least the first four to five years after Katrina, much of that was spent trying to cope.” “I haven’t had a drink or drugs in 5½ years,” said Burkart, who now lives in St. I just decided to take control of my life.” Burkart, who plays the Hammond B3 organ, started his own band, Mikey B3, which he describes as an organ-based trio that plays “Gulf Coast rock ’n’ soul.” His music career is thriving.

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