Monday, September 19, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

"Fending for ourselves": Making do in Mississippi

The Washington Post

GULFPORT, Miss. Hurricane Katrina has transformed Mississippi's mayors into car thieves and its senators into blockade runners.

Isolated by the initial hit of the storm and failed by the slow federal response, citizens have fended for themselves in some original and not entirely legal ways. Brent Warr, the Republican mayor of Gulfport, even ordered his police chief to hot-wire a truck.

"When you send your law enforcement out to steal things, that's when you know you're in a different situation," Warr said.

In Gulfport, Warr did everything by the book, right up until he started stealing. His force of 225 police officers and 190 firefighters stayed on the job in 24-hour shifts. Fire Chief Pat Sullivan went into the storm to cut away felled trees from the roads leading to the hospitals. In the city's sea-blue antebellum City Hall, Warr worked without power.

But three days after the storm, Gulfport was still without help, and Warr's control over the situation was slipping. Looting broke out downtown. When Warr drove a utility vehicle down Highway 90, he watched as his own longtime family business, Warr's Men's Clothing, was ransacked.

Worst of all, the city was running out of fuel. Generators were about to fail, and rescue vehicles were running out of gas. One local hospital radioed that it was on backup power and had no water, and looters were circling.

Warr turned to Police Chief Stephen Barnes. There was a private fuel-transport vehicle parked in a lot behind a chain-link fence. Warr had the lock cut. "Can we hot-wire it?" he asked.

Barnes said, "I wasn't cut out to be a crook; that's why I went into law enforcement."

"Well, can we get someone from the jail to do it?" Warr asked.

Thirty minutes later, the truck was sitting in the City Hall parking lot. That was just one episode in Warr's life of petty crime over the past three weeks.

When the mayor needed to feed the 500 or so exhausted first responders, he stole a stove. The nearby Blowfly Inn, a restaurant and catering company, had a portable kitchen parked in a storage lot. Warr ordered the locks cut and installed the kitchen next to City Hall, where it has been in service ever since; the owner has since given permission.

 

"We were literally fending for ourselves," Warr said. "Sitting in a well complaining because no one will throw you a rope is not going to get you anywhere. Instead, you climb out. You hope someone gives you a hand and pulls you. But either way, we're getting out of the well."

"Going around" FEMA

In the three weeks since the storm, Mississippians have in some ways felt as cut off as they did on the day it struck. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., says people in his state are "disenchanted" with the federal response.

Storm detritus remains everywhere: houses blown into matchsticks, clothes wrapped around treetops, pine needles impaled in broken glass panes. The region now has enough food (mostly meals-ready-to-eat) and water, thanks in part to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). But people are struggling to acquire and distribute other basic supplies: baby food, diapers, paper products, cleaning supplies, shovels, rakes, bleach. Most importantly, they need temporary housing, which has been slow in coming.

"And if help doesn't come soon, we're going to have a major health issue," said Marsha Barbour, wife of Republican Gov. Haley Barbour.

Mississippi's first lady, along with her two children, Reeves, 26, and Jackye, 24, has been running supplies into storm-devastated communities by pickup truck. After sitting out the storm in Hattiesburg, she was in an initial convoy into Gulfport, with transportation workers and National Guard members cutting trees ahead of her. That night, she went out on a looting patrol with Gulfport police.

"I take my hat off to her," said Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran. "She's not sitting around sipping tea and serving tomato aspic."

But the effectiveness of the response to Katrina appears to diminish the higher you move up the chain of command. By Sept. 7, Lott concluded that FEMA and its Mississippi arm were overwhelmed and understaffed, and he went straight to circumvention mode.

"We're just going around them," Lott said. "We talk to people on the ground, and they tell us what they need."

Lott has used his office to funnel in aid donated by his fellow senators. He worked with Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, to get two 18-wheelers full of baby supplies, disinfectant and basic medical goods from Ohio to the United Methodist Church center in Jackson.

Both help and hindrance

According to FEMA, the agency is doing a good job in Mississippi under trying circumstances. Spokeswoman Mary Hudak, who is working in Jackson, said FEMA had supplied 99 million bags of ice, 37.5 million liters of water and 7.8 million meals to the state as of Saturday. The Red Cross and Salvation Army have served an additional 3.8 million meals. FEMA has provided 12 search-and-rescue teams and 15 medical-strike teams, and 21 Disaster Medical Assistance teams have treated 16,331 patients. There are five FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers, and 318,000 households have registered, while approved aid payments total $250 million.

"I think we're working well with the state of Mississippi," Hudak said. "Quite frankly, there have been challenges: the scope, the damage to infrastructure, the debris, the lack of fuel."

Officials say that although FEMA is well-intentioned and helpful, it has been plagued by disorganization and agonizing slowness. At times, it has even been a hindrance. A local FEMA liaison has answered the Ocean Springs mayor's questions by telling her to call an 800 number.

On one occasion, Gulfport Mayor Warr arranged for trucks of ice and water to be sent to local shelters, where evacuees had gone 36 hours with nothing to drink. He discovered that FEMA had ordered the trucks held at a distribution point at the Stennis Space Center. "The trucks were sitting for a day and half out there, idling, waiting to be told to come on in to town," he said.

Gulfport is badly in need of generators to keep its pumping stations working; sewage was beginning to come out of manhole covers, and Warr feared an outbreak of disease. He put in an order for 157 generators with FEMA and did the paperwork. Then he got a call saying the generators couldn't be sent without a specific address.

"Send them to City Hall," Warr said he replied. "I've got 157 places they need to go."

He never got the generators.

Pascagoula, where Lott lost his beachfront home, was hammered with a 22-foot wall of water and 160 mph winds, and yet, Lott said, "It's been hard to get attention." He did help to get the USS Comfort hospital ship sent to Pascagoula to provide emergency beds and food for the town's first responders, 400 of whom lost their homes.

But when Lott asked a Harrison County sheriff how they were faring, the sheriff reported that he was worried about FEMA diverting supplies.

Lott told him, "If anyone from FEMA tries to confiscate anything, arrest them."

Sometimes, when coordinated federal aid has broken down or failed to appear, corporate ingenuity has filled the gap. Diageo, an international beverage company, sent two large generators to Gulfport 29 hours after the storm.

Lott said he asked a Diageo executive, "If you can get there that quickly, how come the federal government can't?"

He said the executive replied, "I refuse to answer that, on grounds it might incriminate me."

Fending for themselves

In Gulfport's Turkey Creek neighborhood, residents expect to fend for themselves, because that's what they have done ever since emancipated slaves established the inland community along a winding canal during Reconstruction. When flooding from Katrina reached the attics of the shotgun houses, some of which dated from the 1880s, the residents rescued each other. Two men filled air mattresses, threw them in a boat and began plucking the elderly from roofs and floating them to safety.

Among those rescued was the Rev. Lettie Evans-Caldwell, 70, a sixth-generation Turkey Creek resident. By way of thanks, her son, Derrick Evans, 38, has set up one of the more-effective ad hoc relief efforts in the area.

Evans was driving frantically to Gulfport from Boston, where he teaches civil-rights history at Boston College, when he heard that his mother had survived. Evans immediately began thinking about what the townsfolk would need.

He reached a county supervisor, William Martin. The area, Martin reported, was desperate for supplies and he hadn't seen a trace of FEMA or the Red Cross.

In every town, Evans stopped for supplies. By the time he reached Tuscaloosa, Ala., he had rented three trucks and nearly maxed out his credit cards to the tune of $20,000. He had six generators, 600 gallons of gas, a chain saw, pallets of food and water, and tarps to cover roofs.

Along the way, he said, "We were passing FEMA trucks along the side of the road."

Once Evans had provisioned Turkey Creek, he linked up with the Good Deeds Community Center in North Gulfport, an informal distribution center where volunteer Rose Johnson has been serving meals and doling out supplies. They began shuttling supplies to neighboring towns. They sent food to Long Beach and loaned a chain saw to firefighters, who used it to cut a man out of his house.

"Poor people know how to survive," Evans said. "These are low-income African Americans. We certainly weren't a jackpot tax base. But we've been here for 139 years, and been through one Reconstruction. This community is about as up-on-our-feet as anyone. We're not running around looking around for something to eat and drink."

"Where's the cavalry?"

In Ocean Springs, Mayor Moran slept on the floor of City Hall for 12 days.

A charming oceanfront bedroom community of 17,500, Ocean Springs was cut off from Biloxi by a knocked-out bridge and was virtually incommunicado for the better part of a week. Apart from a brief assessment visit by a FEMA medical-strike team, Moran and her 40 police officers, 25 firefighters and 40 public-works employees were alone for five days before they received any response from outside.

"We knew we would be on our own for 72 hours, but after five days, totally exhausted, we were just left saying, 'Where's the relief? Where's the cavalry?' " she said.

Finally, help came in the form of two tractor-trailers of supplies from New Life Community Church in Chicago. An interfaith alliance of 15 churches in Ocean Springs had arranged for the delivery. The trucks carried water, diapers, cleaning supplies, dry food and used clothes. When the drivers said they couldn't unload without a secure place to put the supplies, Moran ordered the locks cut on a county warehouse.

Next, she broke into her own public-works building "to hijack a forklift." She had staff break into a fish-and-tackle shop to get waders. They left an invoice.

On Friday, a dozen mayors gathered in the Gulfport City Hall to brainstorm about how to speed aid to the affected cities. They called it Mayors on a Mission.

They sat around a conference table, swapping stories and potential solutions. Among their listeners was Marsha Barbour. She stood at the front of the room and thanked them for their tireless efforts.

"I know there are frustrations," she said. "None of y'all have had a break." She waved a sheaf of papers. "I will facilitate anything I can. I only see Haley late at night. But I do get the last word."

Afterward, she remarked that the mayors seemed determined to solve their own problems. "There was no whining from these people." But she was concerned about the overwork and exhaustion she sensed.

After three weeks, the worst problem confronting Mississippi is homelessness. Officials at every level are clamoring for trailers. In Jackson County alone, the Red Cross estimates that 105,000 people are homeless.

By last week, when Mississippi had received only 20 trailers from FEMA, Lott was calling the delay "an unmitigated disaster." But by late Friday, there finally appeared to be a breakthrough: FEMA assured local officials that housing was on the way. FEMA says 2,949 trailers and mobile homes are in the state, with more coming.

All the federal officials have asked Warr what he needs.

"I can't tell you what we need," Warr replies, "because we need everything."

Copyright 2005 The Seattle Times Company

 


Aiding Biloxi's Blues
Posted: 09.19.2005
For the past three weeks, America has watched coverage of the destruction, isolation and anguish Hurricane Katrina brought to the Gulf region of the United States, leaving behind it a shattered footprint of normal life.

America has played the blame game, politicized, prayed, wept, given and mourned those who lost their lives, family members, homes, businesses and any semblance of a life before the storm.

While most of America has watched, Josh Beacham, a junior in life-long education, was in Biloxi, Miss. working to get the city back in order.

Josh, who works for Bitting Electric and Bitting Alternative Power, was part of a crew that traveled to Mississippi the day after the hurricane made landfall to restore power through generators to Red Cross sites, municipal buildings, schools and sewage pump stations. Even though they were helping, profit was also a motivation for Josh who made the sacrifice of dropping his classes to go.

Josh describes his trip as "a once in a lifetime opportunity that I just had to take." He went on to say that he didn't regret leaving school and everything behind because "N.C. State will always be there and I couldn't pass up this chance."

The crew caught up with the storm in northern Alabama where it was still strong and arrived in Mobile late Monday. The crew didn't reach Biloxi, one of the most devastated areas, until early Tuesday morning.

"Going down the highway you couldn't see any billboards. They were all ripped down or folded over," Josh said. "When we got to the city it didn't look that bad at first. There were some roofs ripped off and shingles everywhere, but it wasn't 'till I got closer to the coast that I saw how horrible it truly was -- nothing like I've ever seen before."

For most Americans, the aftermath left by Hurricane Katrina was two-dimensional -- a sad story on a television screen that can hardly represent the reality of the situation in these states.

Josh vividly described the smells as if they haven't yet left him.

"There was one time that it smelled so bad that I got sick," he said. "It smelled like a four-year-old port-a-potty and gasoline."

What Josh said he recalls most of all isn't what he went through, but what he witnessed the residents of those areas living with.

"All the stories I heard were about how people survived and what they lost. There are only a handful of people who got lucky," Josh said. "I talked to people who couldn't get in touch with their family members. Everyone was in a state of panic and shock. They were so on edge and didn't know which way to turn."

Josh's own feelings mirrored those of the residents as well.

"In the first 12 hours I was in a state of shock and then I became numb to it all. After awhile I had to tell myself, 'Everything is destroyed. Accept it and do your job.'"

Countless people stayed in the areas even after they saw what was to come. Some chose to stay with their homes and the city they loved, while others had no choice but to stay. Josh's crew, although they were not there to hand out supplies, gave what they could even if it was something as a small a ride or a bottle of water.

"We would go into neighborhoods and people would be waving and screaming 'Thank You,' and it made me feel good," he said.

Josh also said he came across dangerous individuals who saw the hurricane as an opportunity to loot and commit crimes.

"[Criminals] were shooting at aid workers. Looting was everywhere and we felt like a moving target. We were driving around with a tank of diesel on the back and a bunch of generators. It was like driving around with a bull's eye on your back," he said.

The rise in crime forced Josh and his crew to arm themselves in case of attack. Police issued each truck a can of crowd control mace to be used if they were rushed. According to Josh, each manager of a crew was lent a handgun by police and crews were allowed to buy other arms. Since some of the first places to be looted after the hurricane were gun stores and pawn shops, Josh's crew was given a letter by police permitting local gun dealers to sell them shotguns.

"It was kind of like war. One person would drive and the other would sit shotgun with a shotgun," he said.

The crews also were responsible for guarding their camps where they kept generators, fuel and supplies. Josh said he regularly pulled security duty where he drove with a gun to protect the generators.

At one point during the trip Josh traveled to New Orleans where the crime was considerably worse. Upon entering the city, which was under military guard, his crew was briefed on what to do if they were attacked.

"If we felt threatened, we could run people over. It was basically an unspoken agreement that we were allowed to do whatever necessary to protect ourselves, because [the National Guard] knew we had guns and were fine with that," he said.

Josh said he is thankful he was never put into the situation where he would have to harm someone even though other members of his company were fired upon while pulled over on the side of the road trying to call their families. He admitted that he was scared and thought about the possibility that he could die.

"It was scary, especially when considering the fact that I'm 22 years old and called up my parents to tell them I wanted a Viking funeral. It was impossible at that point not to think about it. It was a chance," Josh said.

He said he does sympathize with people in these areas and tries to rationalize what they were doing.

"These people were out of electricity for a week and a half, no water and were starving, and then they saw this truck with supplies on it that they needed and they knew they could get away with it," he said.

Josh's crew worked side by side with federal and state officials in Biloxi toward the end of the first week. "We went into Biloxi on Tuesday and we didn't see FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) until Thursday or Friday," Josh said.

Josh's crew installed generators to the sewage pump stations, Red Cross sites and municipal buildings without ever talking to FEMA. He described the reaction by FEMA as a "bureaucratic mess-up" and said "things were getting changed left and right. No one could answer for anything."

Josh said several times his crew had to instruct FEMA where Red Cross sites were located.

"It was so disorganized. You could literally watch [FEMA] mentally drop the ball left and right. We took the initiative and got our generators hooked up and were like 'Listen, you got a ton of MRE's and stuff like that. Drop them at these locations. These sites are established.' So I guess in a way we weren't telling them what to do, but helping them out, because they had no idea. They were so back and forth," Josh said.

He said he saw no problem with a private company needing to take the initiative after a disaster of this magnitude.

"Somebody had to step up and take the initiative and it could have been anyone," he said.

Josh's crew did step up to the plate and worked with barely any rest to get the city of Biloxi on its feet again, although he admits some parts were enjoyable.

"We worked on a barter system a lot of time, because you couldn't use credit cards. We hooked up generators at a hotel and were allowed to take showers and a nap. We also hooked a generator to a bar and they opened up for everyone," Josh said.

He compared his role aiding Mississippi to an adventure.

"You were given coordinates and you had to find your way on a GPS system. We went and saw messed up stuff and it was an adrenaline high all the time. I didn't know what was going to happen next so I had to keep myself pumped," Josh said.

Rights given to him by the local governments added to the adventure. In a memo from Mayor Connie Moran of Ocean Springs, Miss., Josh and his crew were given full rights to take whatever supplies they needed from anywhere throughout the city. Josh's crew used this right to take propane tanks from local stores to install generators at sites like the Red Cross camps.

Josh did witness the things that people across the country are watching so intently on television. He said he saw the dead bodies, but said the saddest thing was seeing "old women go through the houses they lived in their whole lives and where they raised generations of children trying to pick up the pieces."

He warned of misconceptions he has seen in the media since returning to Raleigh.

"New Orleans is bad, but [the media] is just focusing on one area when the whole gulf area was hit," Josh said. "Everybody sees dead bodies and thinks they are floating up and down the river, but that's not true. The body count is actually much lower than they were projecting."

Through it all, Josh said he would go again tomorrow if another hurricane were to cause such damage and will take with him the memories of helping rebuild a city who called out for help.

"It's impossible to go through that and not feel sympathy for these people. I really couldn't put myself in their shoes because I didn't lose everything," he said. "We were down there to do generator work and we just tried to help when we could."

 

 


 
Insurers Sued Over Hurricane Coverage

By DUNCAN MANSFIELD
Associated Press Writer

 

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi on Thursday sued insurers to force them to pay billions of dollars in flood damage from Hurricane Katrina, saying standard insurance polices have led homeowners to believe they are covered for all hurricane damage, whether from high winds or storm surges.

To deny coverage to those whose homes were wiped out by the storm surge, but lacked flood insurance, is "taking advantage of people in the most dire straits," said Attorney General Jim Hood, who filed the lawsuit against five major insurers.

"We intend to ... make sure the insurance companies pay all that they owe these people on the coast," he said.

Hood said storm surge damage has been estimated at $2 billion to $4 billion.

He asked a Chancery Court to void provisions in the policies that attempt to exclude from coverage losses or damages directly or indirectly caused by water, whether wind-driven or not. He said he would seek a restraining order next week pending a full hearing.

Only about 30 percent of the houses in disaster-struck portions of Mississippi and Alabama had flood insurance, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates.

Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance, one of the companies named in the lawsuit, said in a statement that it was unfortunate the litigation had begun so early in the recovery process.

"The fact is flood insurance protection has been offered by the federal government for nearly four decades precisely because flood damage is not covered by private insurers like Allstate," company spokesman Michael Trevino said.

Chicago-based Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, an industry group, said the lawsuit threatened to undermine the viability of every insurance policy in the state and the integrity of every legal contract in the nation.

Chief Executive Ernie Csiszar said the action was also unfair to consumers who have paid the federal government for flood insurance.

"This would establish a dangerous precedent and expose insurance companies to potentially billions of dollars in claims costs for a risk in which not one dollar of premium was collected," he said. "This lawsuit is about politics, not fairness or justice."

Robert Begnaud, a retired shrimper whose modest Biloxi house three-quarters of a mile from the beach was knocked off its foundation, was pleased to hear about the lawsuit. His insurance company told him, he said, that it might only be covered for a new tin roof. "But I mean they can't fix the roof because there ain't no house," he said.

Katrina destroyed more than 68,000 homes, apartments and condominiums in the state's six southernmost counties, and caused major damage to about 65,000 residences, according to a preliminary survey by the American Red Cross. Many homes were destroyed by an up-to-30-foot wall of water driven ashore by the hurricane's Category 4 winds.

In Louisiana, a group of homeowners sued 16 insurance companies Thursday, asking a state district court to rule that neglect and wind damage caused the flood that inundated thousands of homes in Orleans and Jefferson parishes.

Breaches in the levees which ring the city allowed the water in, so the floods were not caused by an "act of God," according to the lawsuit.

The Louisiana lawsuit, filed by 14 couples, a homeowner and one business, says the city might not have flooded had levees and floodwalls remained intact. That means the flood doesn't meet the "rising water" or "act of God" exclusions common to insurance policies, it contends.

In his lawsuit, Hood said residents and property owners on the Mississippi Gulf Coast purchased standard policies from the defendants "for the primary purpose of insuring against any damage that could possibly result from hurricanes originating from the Gulf of Mexico."

The suit claims the flood exclusions violate state public policy, contradict common law and are an unfair or deceptive trade practice.

The lawsuit also names the Mississippi Farm Bureau Insurance, State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., United Services Automobile Association, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company and other unidentified insurers unknown to the state who offer similar policies.

___

Allstate: http://www.allstate.com

Miss. Farm Bureau: http://www.msfb.com

State Farm: http://www.statefarm.com

Miss. Attorney General: http://www.ago.state.ms.us

 


Churches help fill Katrina relief void

06 Sep 2005 15:30:06 GMT
 

Source: Reuters
By Crispian Balmer

OCEAN SPRINGS, Miss., Sept 6 (Reuters) - Hurricane Katrina changed the face of the Church of Christ. The altar area at the back of the brick building has vanished under boxes of shampoo while the pews are piled high with cans of food.

"It looks more like a supermarket than a place of worship but we had to put the provisions somewhere," said 62-year-old Eileen Logan, a member of the congregation who is helping co-ordinate her church's emergency relief efforts.

It's the same story in countless churches that dot this genteel Mississippi city, which like much of the Gulf Coast was shredded by last week's killer hurricane.

Instead of relying on government workers to come and clear up the mess, the churches looked to their own nationwide networks and found the help they so-badly needed.

"If they'd waited for the federal government to move, they'd have to wait six months," said Ed Humphries, an energetic Church of Christ minister from Pensacola in near-by Florida, who had spent the day stripping homes soaked by the ferocious Katrina.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, tasked with disaster relief in the United States, has come under fierce criticism for responding too slowly to the crisis, especially in the ravaged city of New Orleans that lies just up the coast.

Although Ocean Springs escaped total devastation, parts of the city were nonetheless flattened, whole buildings blown to smithereens by the howling winds and historic seafront homes squashed into the earth by flood waters.

Mayor Connie Moran said the authorities had promised her help within 72 hours of the storm passing. But a FEMA team took a week to arrive, swooping in by helicopter to survey the devastation along the city's splintered coast road.

"We felt a bit forgotten. The FEMA were slower to respond than we had expected, but the unofficial relief was immediate and overwhelming," she said, eating a supper cooked for her by volunteers at the First Baptist Church.

Herself a Roman Catholic, Moran says the various Christian faiths are working together, planning to pool their resources to take care of children given that the local schools are likely to remain closed for weeks.

"It doesn't matter what the denomination is. These churches are the glue of this society," she said.

The Baptists are offering suppers to all volunteer workers and out-of-state police whose numbers are rising daily. Although the city's stores are all closed and electricity lines down, the church is having no problems feeding the hungry.

A sister church in Texas has delivered a freezer full of beef while another church in Kentucky sent over 200 generators.

At the Church of Christ, the Pensacola worshipers said they were merely repaying a debt of gratitude after Ocean Springs' citizens rushed to their help last year when they were floored by Hurricane Ivan.

"There's no point sitting around and waiting for the government to do something. That wasn't how this nation was built," said Logan, whose two daughters lost almost all their belongings to the flood waters.

An exhausted city alderman, Jerry Dalgo, has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of generosity. Sitting in the Baptist church's improved canteen he surveys the pallets of food sent by sister churches in Giorgia.

"When all this is over, I am going to dedicate myself to helping other people in trouble," he says.

"This has been a total life changing experience for me. I've come to realise there is nothing more important than helping other people."

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Body Recovery Nears End in Mississippi


Tuesday September 13, 2005 8:31 AM

By MATT APUZZO

Associated Press Writer

BILOXI, Miss. (AP) - As the pace of finding corpses slows, Mississippi is turning its attention to securing temporary housing for families left homeless by Hurricane Katrina.

With more than 115,000 evacuees in shelters or temporary locations arranged by the Red Cross, and many more in hotels and private homes, Gov. Haley Barbour said the state is trying to obtain more temporary housing - an issue he raised with President Bush on Monday during Bush's third trip to the coast since Katrina struck.

Barbour said later in Jackson that 1,250 trailers or mobile homes had arrived at a central staging area, 135 were ready for occupancy and 20 were already homes to families in hard-hit Biloxi.

The state is hoping to line up 10,000 temporary shelters for displaced families and workers by the end of the month. Barbour said housing is needed not just for the homeless but also for relief workers and those beginning the reconstruction.

Joe Spraggins, emergency-management director in Harrison County, said one of the biggest challenges over the next few days will be finding places to put the mobile homes and travel trailers.

He said homeowners may be able to put mobile homes on or near their own properties. Emergency officials also are looking for spaces to establish mobile home parks.

Alderman Joseph Piernas said his coastal town of Pass Christian needs temporary housing for nearly the entire population of 8,500. He said 50 to 100 families are still living in the town but everybody else has been evacuated to shelters, motels and homes inland.

The death count in Mississippi was raised Monday to 218, up four from the weekend, and emergency officials said they did not expect a big spike in the number.

``Once we start the debris removal, we'll probably see some additional bodies,'' Spraggins said. ``How many, I don't know. I hope just a few.''

In Biloxi, contractors searched for bodies as they began clearing rubble from the waterfront edges of Point Cadet - a largely blue-collar neighborhood of Vietnamese fishermen, casino workers and Eastern European families. Many tried to ride out the storm in 50- to 80-year-old homes.

``It would be going faster, but as they dig, they're always looking,'' said Fred Fayard, a contractor whose crews began their first full day of work Monday. ``If they see a foot, a hand, any body part, or if they smell something, we stop.''

Many of the homes flattened by Katrina were narrow, wooden, single-story houses. Brick front steps lead to nowhere. Bathtubs and shingles often are the only clues that houses once stood there.

Biloxi officials estimate Katrina demolished at least 5,000 homes and buildings in this city of 55,000, or about 20 percent of the city.

``This right here is utter devastation,'' said Sgt. Johnnie McAdory, an Army reservist from Noxapater whose unit served more than a year in Iraq. ``That over there was a walk in the park.''

----


Posted on Fri, Sep. 16, 2005


 

Shelters afloat planned for up to 490 people




SUN HERALD

 

As soon as Saturday, federal disaster relief officials expect to move hurricane victims from shelters to a Carnival Holiday cruise ship docked in Mobile.

"The goal is to get people out of shelters," said Brian Bowman, Federal Emergency Management Agency public information officer. "This is not a normal situation and we had to come up with something better until we could solve the temporary housing problem."

Jackson County residents in shelters and elderly people living in badly damaged homes are considered priority. If Jackson County residents do not fill the cruise ship, remaining space would be offered to Harrison County sheltered and elderly and later Hancock County residents in shelters, Bowman said.

American Red Cross officials in Jackson County report between 500 and 700 evacuees at six shelters each night.

FEMA has asked the Red Cross to staff a shelter at the ship, but also keep some other shelter sites open for Jackson County residents who don't want to go.

"We are working alongside FEMA to resolve these housing issues," said Paige Roberts, executive director for the Southeast Mississippi Chapter of the American Red Cross. "We have the ability to nurture this opportunity as a win-win situation."

During a press conference late Wednesday, Gov. Haley Barbour announced the ship would be available to lodge 490 people and would dock in Pascagoula after Mississippi coastal waters are clean enough for the ship's water treatment system.

Since Hurricane Katrina, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard have been working to clear the channel for all ships. U.S. Coast Guard officials reported Thursday the Pascagoula River was open to 36 feet.

Bowman said FEMA officials hope to move the cruise ship to Pascagoula within two weeks.

"The governor, MEMA and FEMA are very sensitive to the fact that a lot of people do not want to be in Mobile because they want to be close to where they live to deal with things like insurance claims," Bowman said.

Bowman said evacuees would be allowed to bring their own vehicles. For those without transportation, a shuttle system would be developed.

"We will not strand them in Mobile," Bowman said.

Carnival Cruise Lines has canceled some trips to shift around ships to accommodate a $192 million Hurricane Katrina relief contract with FEMA, and offered some cruise customers a refund or the opportunity to book another cruise at a higher rate, the Associated Press reported.

Besides the $192 million for three ships leased for six months to FEMA, the Carnival deal includes up to $44 million for "pass-through" expenses, such as fuel.


OCEAN SPRINGS

FEMA mobile home prioritizing

In a special call meeting Thursday, Ocean Springs aldermen discussed how to prioritize assigning the hundreds of mobile homes due to begin arriving next week from FEMA to house Jackson County's homeless.

The board passed a motion to give the highest priority to fire and police department employees whose homes have been rendered unlivable by Katrina. Additional priority will extend to teachers who will resume classroom duties when Ocean Springs schools reopen on September 26. It's estimated that 35 percent of the city's teachers are currently homeless.

Other essential city personnel, approximately 60 of whom are currently without homes, will also receive first dibs on the manufactured housing.

"We've got to help the people first who are helping everyone else," said alderman Greg Denyer, who also serves as principal of the Ocean Springs Middle School.

- TINA KESSINGER