Hyde-Smith gives view of Katrina damage

Published 6:00 am Thursday, November 3, 2005

Following a recent tour of the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged GulfCoast, District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith said the state faces aslow and costly recovery from the storm that has become the newbenchmark for natural disaster destruction.

The senator was among a group of state officials who took a”state line to state line” tour of the coast last week. She spokeabout her experiences Wednesday during the Brookhaven Kiwanis Clubmeeting.

“The destruction for miles and miles and miles isunbelievable…,” Hyde-Smith said. “It’s no doubt the nation’slargest catastrophe we’ve had.”

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Despite higher-than-expected revenue collections as recoveryefforts get under way, Hyde-Smith said it is hard to believe theLegislature will end its 2006 special session with a balancedbudget. She alluded to millions of dollars that will be needed foreducational purposes alone.

“We totally lost 16 schools that are just gone,” saidHyde-Smith, mentioning another 24 schools with severe damage.

Hyde-Smith expected it would cost $10 million to replace onecounty’s 159 school buses that were swept away when a 30-foot wallof water came ashore.

“Nobody was expecting the surge,” Hyde-Smith said.

In other areas, the chairwoman of the Senate AgricultureCommittee cited “phenomenal” agricultural losses of close to $2billion. Of that, $1.3 billion was in timber, $102 million inpoultry, $100 million in catfish and $95 million in beefcattle.

“We’re looking at millions of dollars in losses in that industryalone,” she said.

Repairing and replacing the highway system on the coast is thepriority for the state while local governments are focusing ongetting essential services like water up and going, Hyde-Smithsaid. The senator said there was over $400 million to damage towater systems, with 167 of 185 systems destroyed or severelydamaged.

In insurance claims, Hyde-Smith said there had been 350,000claims made and $1.2 billion paid so far.

Officials continue to debate whether insurance or governmentassistance will help cover losses for property owners whose homeswere flooded. The senator indicated that was one of many unansweredquestions remaining as recovery efforts move forward.

“There has never been anything of this magnitude,” Hyde-Smithsaid.

Hyde-Smith said faith-based organizations had done a”tremendous” job of helping in many ways after the hurricane. Shewas also impressed with Gov. Haley Barbour’s leadership.

“Haley Barbour did a great job of being an anchor we could holdonto when this first happened,” Hyde-Smith said.

While passing out photographs of damaged areas, the senator saidtoday’s young people will talk about Katrina like older generationshave talked about Hurricane Camille since it happened in 1969.

“This will be a topic of discussion all their lives because, Iassure you, Camille is not the benchmark anymore,” Hyde-Smithsaid.