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As I See It

Power’s on, gas lines are gone, but now it’s… sewage?

The catastrophic damage to lives and property caused by Hurricane Katrina is on everyone’s mind and will be for years to come. I have been humbled and impressed with the outpouring of aid coming from throughout the U.S. and the world to help Mississippi get back on her feet. We will never forget how others have risen to the occasion and are doing all that they can to alleviate our hardship.

All of us experienced inconvenience at the hand of Katrina. Though our neighbors to the south were hit much, much harder than we were, our lives were still disrupted to some degree. We’ll long remember the gasoline panic and the power outage. In my case, we were without power for nine long days. Never have I appreciated electricity more than when we were without.

My mother and aunt, age 92 and 95, respectively, live in rural Simpson County, which was more in the path of Katrina than I was. I live in rural Hinds County, between Byram and Raymond. So, early on Monday morning of hurricane day, we moved them in with us to ride out the storm.

When it was inevitable that more gasoline was required to keep our generator generating, I went to Clinton to try my luck in the gas lines. Cleverly, or so I thought, I picked a station that was at the bottom of a hill, where I could roll downhill without burning precious fuel. The Clinton police were on the job maintaining order. One guy tried to break in line and was repulsed by the police and sent to the end of the line — in shame, I hope. Those of us in line really enjoyed that demonstration of authority, providing, as it did, a moment of levity in an otherwise boring and tedious situation.

Oh, so close…

After rolling downhill for quite some time, success was within my grasp. I was two cars away from the gas pump. That’s when my car battery quit. Incredible! No warning, no indication that anything was wrong. Just quit.

Ah, what to do now? To serve and protect is the universal police mission. And, the police fulfilled their charge that day. I will never forget how the Clinton police plus the guy behind me unselfishly pushed my car to the gas pumps. After filling, they tried to jump-start my car, but, alas, it was not to be. Though I now had $50 worth of gasoline in hand, I had to have the car towed home.

While waiting in line, the police walked up and down the line with a plastic bag containing water and soft drinks, which they dispensed to any who asked. I also watched them pump the gas for an elderly lady who appeared to need a little help. Those policemen were a credit to the City of Clinton and their profession.

Powering up

Suspecting that the battery was dead, I removed the battery to check it out. Now, it’s no real challenge to take the battery out of a John Deere tractor or a ‘56 Chevy.
However, with a modern SUV, it’s rocket science and I’m no rocket scientist.

Nonetheless, I dissembled the engine and removed the battery. Peering through the hole on top of the battery into the hydrometer, it appeared that the battery was fine. In fact, it was dead and the hydrometer lied to me. Another towing charge (a total of $177 total for both tows), I got the car to the shop and had the battery replaced, at a cost of $102. For a known cheapskate like me, this was painful indeed.

The lines are gone now, the car is running and everything is almost fine. The only remaining problem is the sewage that is backing up into my bathtub, courtesy of a treatment plant unaided by electricity for nine days.

Fully recovering

Oh, well. I’ll get the sewage under control, get the downed trees cut and life will pretty much get back to normal. For me, anyway.

For our neighbors in southern Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, the road back to normality is going to be long and hard. Our state’s economy, including the state budget, is a mess. Even the prospect of a massive federal bailout, while extremely helpful, won’t return us to where we were before the storm.

Only the spirit of our people and their sense of home will fuel the engine to fully recover from this awful disaster.

Thought for the Moment

Expect to lose sometimes, but a loss can be a stepping stone to victory if it’s utilized in the right way. — Coach Jake Gaither (1903-1994)

Joe D. Jones, CPA (retired), is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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