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One year later, Katrina continues to teach lessons

Katrina and the storm’s aftermath have become such an integral part of our lives that it’s never completely out of our thoughts. As with Hurricane Camille, people will never forget their experiences with Katrina. People tire of hearing about the human suffering, the displaced persons, insurance disputes and the difficulties of rebuilding the Coast but the reality of the situation is with us every day. A significant part of our state has been rent asunder and fixing it won’t be easy or happen soon.

Aside from the humanitarian concerns about the well-being of our fellow Mississippians living on the Gulf Coast, the economic impact of Katrina is staggering. Until rebuilding commences in earnest, the Coast economy is dangling in limbo and rebuilding can’t really get underway until insurance issues are resolved and the money starts to flow. That situation is improving daily.

It’s likely that the time to begin rebuilding is now upon us. Folks are starting to get some insurance proceeds and the saws are sawing and the hammers are nailing. Though we’re all sad for the occasion, rebuilding the Coast will produce an economic boost for the state not seen since the casino building boom of the mid-1990s. Already, sales tax revenues for the coastal counties are climbing and likely to continue to climb for months to come. Truly, a silver lining to a very dark cloud.

Making progress

Though not nearly fast enough to suit any of us, recovery is progressing. A recent Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and FEMA news release offers some encouraging statistics. To date, FEMA has spent about $8.9 billion on recovery assistance in Mississippi.

Some 45 million cubic yards of debris has been removed from public and private property. FEMA reports that land-based debris removal for the entire state of Mississippi is 99% complete.

Fifty-thousand temporary blue roofs have been installed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers through FEMA’s Operation Blue Roof and 48,000 Mississippi families have been provided travel trailers and mobile homes.

And, finally, FEMA has paid $2.4 billion to 16,939 policyholders for flood claims through the National Flood Insurance Program. At present, 65,480 Mississippians have flood insurance and the number of policyholders is growing.

About that fine print

Failing to read insurance policy fine print has proven to be a costly error for many home and business owners on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. A judge ruled several weeks ago that ignorance of the fine print on insurance policies, which excluded flood damage, was not grounds to set aside the contract and force the insurance companies to cover excluded Katrina losses.

As disappointing as this decision certainly is to those who have suffered tremendous financial loss and are now unlikely to be able to recover from insurance companies, the verdict is correct. To allow otherwise would disrupt the entire insurance landscape and create havoc throughout the economy.

Amazing volunteers

No discussion of Katrina would be complete without recognizing the contribution of volunteers from all across America, as well as some from overseas. According to MEMA, over 1,000 organizations have sent thousands and thousands of volunteers to help us rebuild our lives. Their selfless efforts buoy our spirits and offer hope for the future. Their debt can only be repaid by our helping others when future tragedies strike.

Another bright spot to emerge from Hurricane Katrina is the leadership exhibited by our state leaders, particularly Gov. Haley Barbour.

When you compare Mississippi’s handling of the situation with the blundering response of our neighbors to the west the difference is incredible. Our congressional delegation has used every ounce of their formidable power and influence in Washington to help the folks back home.

We learn from our mistakes and we move on. The Coast is a vital part of Mississippi and it will recover. It won’t be just like we remember it, but it will recover nonetheless.

The process will be long and expensive. Families have been disrupted and lives have been changed as a result of Katrina. But, Mississippians are a hardy breed and we’ll survive this calamity just as we have endured challenges throughout our history.

Thought for the Moment

I have a lot of things to prove to myself. One is that I can live my life fearlessly.
— Oprah Winfrey

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


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