Everything just disintegrated

USA Today

Sunday 19 February 2006, 1:49 pm

By Larry Copeland, USA TODAY

More than five months after Hurricane Katrina leveled much of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, people here are still struggling mightily to restore some sense of normalcy.

The raw numbers are staggering: More than half a million people in Mississippi have applied for assistance from FEMA. In a state with just 2.9 million residents, that means more than one in six Mississippians have sought help. More than 97,000 people are still living in FEMA trailers and mobile homes. Another 5,000 to 6,000 are still waiting for FEMA trailers.

Despite a massive cleanup, many neighborhoods are still piled high with storm debris.

There is a lot of anger and frustration here: At insurance companies that accepted premiums for decades and are now, in the opinion of residents, dragging their feet or balking at paying off. At FEMA, which is doing a lot but is the main face of the federal government and therefore the target of much ire. At the media for focusing so much attention on New Orleans that Mississippians often feel their pain is being overlooked.

"You never see Waveland, Bay St. Louis or Pass Christian on the news, and we were the hardest hit," Linda Penrose says. "People do not know the devastation down here because the cameras do not come back here. Everything just disintegrated. I don't think they want people to see how bad it was."

Insurance problems plague the powerful and the not-so-powerful alike. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., have joined thousands of fellow Mississippians suing their insurer, State Farm Fire & Casualty, for refusing to cover property losses from Katrina.