Better response puts Miss. in better shape after Katrina

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Almost 18 months after Hurricane Katrina, the worst naturaldisaster to hit the U.S. is still making headlines. That’s notunexpected, but several recent events are putting the storm and itsaftermath in the spotlight for the wrong reasons.

Instead of trumpeting good news of recovery, several storieslast week dredged up worn out tales of bickering, belly-aching andfinger-pointing.

In one case, former Federal Emergency Management Agency DirectorMichael Brown alleged partisanship in the White House in differingresponses to Louisiana – with its Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco -and to Mississippi – with its Republican Gov. Haley Barbour.Barbour rightly rejected the criticism in saying Brown’scredibility had worn pretty thin in recent years.

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At a news conference Wednesday, Blanco cried that President Bushdidn’t mention Katrina in Tuesday’s State of the Union speech andthat in comparison to Mississippi, Louisiana was being shortchangedin federal recovery funding.

Could it be that Mississippi was simply better prepared for thehurricane – before, during and after its arrival?

Since the storm, despite overwhelming media attention on NewOrleans, Mississippians have pulled up their proverbial bootstrapsand gotten to work recovering and rebuilding while Louisiana hasstruggled in its efforts. Again, Barbour was correct in pointingout the reasonableness of Mississippi’s recovery funding requestsand in its being further along in getting that money to homeownersin need.

“Sounds to me like Congress is getting their money’s worth inMississippi,” Barbour told the Associated Press last week.

The governor went on to point out that Mississippi has issued9,902 homeowner recovery grants out of about 17,000 applicationsfor help after Hurricane Katrina. The AP story cited a Web site forthe “Road Home” grant program in Louisiana that said 101,657applications had been submitted for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita andthat 258 grants had been completed by Monday.

On a percentage basis, that suggests that 58 percent ofapplications in Mississippi have been processed while less than 1percent of those in Louisiana have been. That appears to speakvolumes about the respective states’ responses.

But there may be some hope for Louisiana. For all his failingsin regards to Katrina, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, a Democrathimself, offered a good take on the situation.

“We’re 18 months into this thing. I’m tired of complaining andbelly-aching,” the mayor said. “We’re going to take whatevernickels we have, whatever pennies we have, whatever dollars wehave, and we’re going to stretch it, and we’re going to make thisrecovery work.”

Nagin was re-elected to office last year.

Barbour, who has been widely hailed for his leadership duringand after Katrina, and Blanco, who has been derided for hers, bothgo before voters this year in asking to be re-elected.

It will be interesting to see who is still in office next yearand how much of a role Katrina will play in those outcomes.