The Lessons Of Katrinaby Doug Mataconis
As we approach the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it’s well known that vast areas of the Gulf Coast remain much as they were when the waters receded. What isn’t well known is the extent to which private charity and volunteer organizations have stepped in where the government has failed:
PEARLINGTON, Miss. — The two-by-fours inside the walls of George and Margaret Ladner’s new home are inscribed with biblical verses, each written by one of the Alabama schoolchildren who raised money to buy the lumber.
The framing work on the house was done by a Christian from Pennsylvania, the exterior planking was put up by people from Texarkana, Tex., and a group from Destin, Fla., worked on other details.
“This home was built by the hands of God,” Margaret Ladner, 75, said from the couch of her new living room last week.
In this small rural community, as in much of the hurricane-ravaged Mississippi Gulf Coast, this kind of motley charity effort accounts for the vast bulk of what halting progress has been made in the immense task of rebuilding.
While the national debate over the recovery has focused on the billions expected in federal aid and insurance, those sources have so far provided little for places such as Pearlington, and charity efforts have constituted more than 80 percent of the home rebuilding completed so far, local and charity officials said.
Fewer than one in five families here are back in their homes, but nearly all of them have relied to some extent on charity groups. The waves of volunteers typically come down for a week or two, work during the day and at night sleep on cots and bunks set up in places such as the old school library and huts on the community’s football field.
“Without the volunteers and the donations, we’d still be in the mud,” said Rocky Pullman, a tugboat captain who represents the Pearlington area on the Hancock County Commission.
But what, you might ask about the billions of dollars in aid from Washington that was supposed to rebuild New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast ? Not surprisingly, it’s tied up in bureaucracy:
The reason for the charity’s dominant role in the rebuilding is that little, if any, of the $3.2 billion in federal aid for Mississippi homeowners has reached anyone here — it is tied up for now at the state level. As for insurance, most residents of this rural community lacked any form of flood policy. People say there just hadn’t been a flood in recent memory, and of those who did have coverage, most had too little.
The $3.2 billion in federal aid disbursed by the Mississippi program has largely been untouchable by people in Pearlington.
The program’s first phase doles out money to people who were flooded but did not live in the federally designated flood zone.
Most people in Pearlington live in the flood zone and must wait for the second phase to begin. Under its guidelines, families of low and moderate income will be eligible for as much as $100,000, less any insurance and FEMA rebuilding payments they have received.
By the time that happens, though, one wonders if the Federal Government will even be needed in Pearlington.