In the Aftermath...Some Things Remain
In this part of the country, for the past few weeks the words most often used include “hurricanes,” “rain bands,” “storm surge,” “damaging winds,” and “tornadoes.” With the recent catastrophic hurricanes to the hit the Gulf Coast region, there are only a few words to describe it - total devastation.
Within one month of each other, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast region. Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas experienced the worst natural disaster in U. S. history. As the weeks progressed, the entire world watched in horror the deadly aftermath of what a hurricane’s damaging winds, flooding, tornadoes and storm surge can do.
The path of destruction is equivalent to the size of Great Britain and stretches 150 miles inland. There’s more than 90,000 square miles totally obliterated by Mother Nature’s wrath and fury; a section of land, which just until a few weeks ago, was home to over a million people. It’s a picture many would care not to imagine, but are now forced to deal with at many levels and for a very long time to come.
The recent hurricanes have left hundreds of thousands of people homeless; without jobs, property and personal possessions; and, for many, the loss of loved ones. At present, the death toll is more than 1,362 and still rising.
The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers estimates that there are currently about 18 to 20 million cubic yards of debris in the hurricane impacted area of Mississippi. This equates to 200 football fields piled 50 feet high. Debris equals that of about four Hurricane Andrews. Their approximate estimate is that it will take about eight months to remove it from the streets, and roughly a year and a half to completely dispose of it.
The Associated Press reported that the Hurricane Katrina cleanup represents the biggest waste-disposal job in U.S. history, dwarfing in volume the debris carted off after the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers fell in 2001, officials said.
Hurricane Rita damage assessments on the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast have revealed that most of the oil refineries, chemical plants and major ports in the region suffered only marginal damage, according to company officials and industry associations. Estimates of insured losses for this sector were reassessed at $2.5 billion, compared with $18 billion originally forecasted, and energy analysts say the near-term impact on gas prices will be minimal.
Hurricanes won’t hurt the economy long term. Deloitte Research’s Carl Steidtmann expects a short-lived economic downturn from hurricane damage, but he says “the combination of disaster relief, and a less aggressive Federal Reserve will put the U.S. economy back on the road to stronger growth no later than the beginning of 2006.”
Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), expects increases in the cost of cement, steel, copper, gypsum, and other petroleum-based products in the wake of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. According to Simonson, the prices for these construction commodities have increased in recent months, but will be pushed even higher due to the hurricane.
According to Reed Business Information, there will be a general rise of about 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent in inflation, but this is not enough to seriously erode spending growth. However, there will be far larger price increases for selected items to be used in reconstruction efforts. Cement and lumber, especially plywood and panels, will experience the largest price increases as there is not enough reserve capacity to absorb rebuilding demand. Plastics prices will rise, although less so, with oil and natural gas feedstock prices. Metal prices should not be bumped up by Katrina; New Orleans is not a major port for the metals industry. (© 2005, Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
Commercial Sector Impact
While the level of damage in New Orleans is incomprehensible, Mississippi also sustained catastrophic damage to its Gulf Coast Region. Mississippi’s commercial sector took a hard blow to its commercial, heath care, education, government, and hospitality and recreation markets. With no damage reports still yet available a month after the storm from seven of the worst hit areas, it is hard to assess the actual damage. Only preliminary damage assessments are reported from 44 counties. They include:
In Mississippi with more than 250,000 students displaced, a report from Mississippi’s Institutions for Higher Learning estimated Katrina’s damages to universities and colleges would be at least $673.5 million. Repairing and rebuilding campus facilities will cost about $495 million, with $440.8 million of the damages at public universities, $47.2 million at community colleges, and almost $7 million at private institutions, the agency said.
Residential Sector Impact
The American Red Cross reported Hurricane Katrina damaged or demolished nearly 500,000 homes in three states - four times as many as Hurricane Andrew did when it hit South Florida in 1992. Mississippi suffered damage to as many as one in every five homes in the area. Altogether, more than 240,000 homes in Louisiana, another 240,000 in Mississippi and 1,700 in Alabama were hit in some way, the Red Cross said. The six Mississippi counties closest to the coast sustained the most widespread destruction, with one in every three houses with more than 80 percent severely damaged or destroyed.
Utility Sector Impact
Hurricane Katrina affected many utilities across the Gulf Coast Region. Mississippi Power reported 66,927 meters without service. Entergy reported 1/3 of its territory was destroyed leaving 1.1 million without power. The Electrical Power Associations of Mississippi reported 127,370 meters without service. Overall, it is estimated that electrical and gas repair/rebuilding will cost between $750 million to $1.1 billion.
The information is overwhelming and up to this point the assessments are still not complete due to the amount of devastation. Everyday new information is available - it will continue to be a work in progress. The strength and courage it will take to rebuild the lives, communities and cities located along the Gulf Coast region is a monumental task. It’s a task the will of the human spirit will overcome and accomplish great things. Our hearts go out to all the families who lost loved ones; those who are helping with the humanitarian efforts providing relief to those desperately in need; the grieving, weary and tired, and those who are forced to rebuild elsewhere. The memories of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita will always be with us, but the dedication and the perserverance of the human spirit will allow us to rebound, rebuild and revitalize the Gulf Coast Region.
Irby received an email that was passed along from a friend, of a friend, of a friend. You know the email chain. It’s a chilling account of one person’s day-by-day account of the aftermath - it’s a journal through the eyes of someone in the midst of the debris and rubble along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Subject: FW: From someone working on the Coast
I’ll make an attempt to tell what’s going on down here right now. It’s hard to do for several reasons.
First, because there is so much, it’s hard to talk about. Most of us cry at least once a day. You can’t deal with the hundreds we have coming in here everyday and not be affected. I’ve seen big bears break down and just fall apart. Mostly blaming themselves for not getting out in time. That choice cost him a wife, child or in some cases both. They all usually say the same things. ”I didn’t think it would get that bad.“ All you can do is listening and try to comfort. Sometimes you see guys just staring into the sunset...not saying anything....but you see those jaw muscles working hard to hold it in. I had one tell me yesterday ”We had to choose, stay in the attic and drown, or climb on the roof into a 150 mile an hour wind. She was screaming my name as she flew away.“ How do you respond to that? You don’t.....you just cry with him and listen... There are lost children who don’t know where their Mamma or Daddy is, or even if they’re alive. Ten year olds, trying to be ”mama“ or ”daddy“ to a little sister or brother...it will tear your heart out. Most also know there is NOTHING to go home to. The house is gone, and in most cases the job too. They show up here with the clothes on their back, and that’s it. It’s all they have left. It’s hard, just too hard for words...you do what you can, but...
Watch us NOW. This is Mississippi today. We’ve opened our homes, hearts and wallets to strangers in need. We’re going to be OK. It will take years, but we’re dealing with it. We will deal with it the only way possible ...one day at a time. We’re out of gasoline today. All the local stations have run out.
I did sleep in my own bed last night, and took a hot shower this morning. There is food in my house, and I know where all my family is. You take these things for granted, until they’re gone...
Forward as you see fit....
Mark Flemmons works for Modern Communications in Cleveland, MS and is working down on the coast in the recovery efforts. Printed with his permission.