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Hancock County Update 30

News From Mark Proulx - Special to GCN  11/18/05

Editors Note: GCN's vision has always been to be the Coast's community information website. After Katrina, I started seeing numerous reports about Hancock County on the GCN Message board from Mark Proulx and felt his stories needed more exposure. ..This is his latest report.
- Keith Burton - GCN


First of all, to all my family and friends having to survive in the freezing and miserable conditions in Hancock County right now...I feel your pain. What's making it worse is that in a recent report, FEMA has suspended the handing out of tents to those OF you need it the most, especially now. The reason? They ran out...

DONATIONS FROM OUR FRIENDS UP NORTH - The Bucks/Mont Bay St. Louis/Waveland Katrina Relief Project, from Doylestown, Pennsylvania has raised more than $549,000 and has started putting together a tentative list of projects to help victims of Hurricane Katrina along Mississippi's Gulf Coast. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9793110/

Likely to top the list is some sort of help to restore safe activities for the children of Hancock County and a daycare center for younger children so parents can get back to work.

"These are the little projects that are important that will fall through the cracks, where there is no FEMA assistance, where there is no insurance assistance," said Ronnie Artigues, a Hancock County attorney who visited Bucks County last week to talk to leaders of the relief effort here. "These kids have nothing to do. Their soccer fields are ruined, their basketball gyms are gone, their dance studios are crushed. We have got to provide some activities for these kids."

In most cases, their schools are also in ruins, their houses are uninhabitable or gone altogether, and their toys and books have been swept away. And with electricity still out in about half the county, Artigues said, any video games or televisions that survived the storm or were brought in afterward are useless.

...and this one too

Speaking to the PA news reporters: Best estimates of the debris are 7.2 million cubic yards on public streets and sidewalks and on private household properties, according to Dave Bevens of the Hancock County Emergency Operations Center. Officials are still working on an estimate for private commercial properties, but Bevens said that could push the total to 8 million cubic yards.

"I've been told that 1 million cubic yards would fill a professional football field five stories high," Bevens said Wednesday. "So that's a lot of debris." Now imagine that the county asked to supervise this cleanup had just 220 employees and a $37 million budget before Katrina. Immediately after the storm, it had maybe 30 employees and no foreseeable tax revenue.

Hancock County leaders knew they couldn't handle the task themselves.

"We felt like it was too big for us to do the administration part of it," said Steve Seymour, one of Hancock County's five elected supervisors. "We didn't have the manpower to handle a disaster of this magnitude."

What will happen after the 100% FEMA reimbursement time runs out is unclear. State and local governments are usually asked to bear an ever increasing percent of the cost. If Hancock County is asked to pay for part of the cleanup, it likely will be forced to default on the payments, its leaders said.

"We can't pay it," Attorney Ronnie Artigues said flatly. "We just don't have that kind of money."

Meanwhile, the cleanup goes on. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9990331/ 

SPENDING WISDUMB - According to the article below, some would wonder how wise it is to spend upwards of $2 billion for a shipyard in Pascagoula clearly losing business - money desperately needed by thousands of people left homeless by Hurricane Katrina. FEMA is having to reappropriate monies from Congress in order to continue to pay claimants as it is...I daresay $2 billion is a healthy amount of money that could be better served by taking care of the Coast's citizens first.


CONTRACTORS - GET AN EDUCATION ON THEM....QUICK! http://loan.yahoo.com/m/living2.html  

Avoid the common home repair ripoffs by checking out this Yahoo! article. From the start, you can eliminate what might be less-than-reputable contractors by considering a list of traits common to rip-off artists. Both the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau have found the following list of attempts to be indications that a contractor may not have your best interests in mind:

Solicits door to door: Be suspicious of contractors who attempt to gain business by visiting door-to-door. Good contractors do not need to drum up business by making “cold calls.”

Offers discounts for finding others customers: Good contractors rely on referrals from satisfied customers or word-of-mouth advertising for a large percentage of their customer base. There is no need to offer a discount in order to bring in more business. A good contractor's work should do the talking!

Has materials left over from a previous job: It is not your lucky day when a contractor shows up on your doorstep offering a cut-rate price on a project because they have materials left over from a recent job at your neighbor's house or the house just “down the street.” This could be a ploy of “fly by night” operators or handyman who are based out-of-state and use their pick-up trucks as their place of business.

Asks you to get the required building permits: This could be a sign that the contractor is trying to avoid contact with the local city permitting agency. Perhaps he is not licensed or registered, as required by your state or locality. A competent contractor will get all the required and necessary permits before starting work on your project.

Does not list a business phone number in the local directory: This a definite red flag, it could indicate that the contractor does not have an established local business presence. Or, that he may be relying on a home answering machine to “screen” customer calls.

Pressures to make an immediate decision: A reputable professional will recognize that you may need time to consider the many factors involved when deciding which contractor to hire. You should always check references. Look into the contractor's standard of work and his professional designations and affiliations; verify his insurance; check to see if he needs a license, and if so, one that is valid; get written estimates from several firms based on identical project specifications, and always contact the Better Business Bureau and the local consumer protection agency to see if they have any additional information for you.

Asks you to pay for the entire job up-front or demands only cash: Whatever the reason, never pay for the entire project up-front. Payments should be made by credit card or check so that you have a record of payment and can provide proof if necessary. Do not pay anything until after the first day of work, and then pay up to one-third. Make additional payments during the project contingent upon completion or a defined amount of work. Do not make the final payment or sign an affidavit of final release until you are satisfied with the final work and have proof the subcontractors and suppliers have been paid.

Suggests you borrow from a particular lender: Do not agree to getting financed through your contractor or someone he suggests. Many people have been ripped off when they agreed to use the contractor's suggested lender; signed papers in a rush; only to find out later that they had agreed to a home equity loan at a very high rate of interest with points and fees. Always secure you own financing by shopping around and comparing all available loan terms.

INSURANCE NIGHTMARES ABOUND - Ray Bourhis, who wrote the book: Insult to Injury: Insurance, Fraud and the Big Business of Bad Faith (http://www.InsultToInjury.Org) says that industry abuses are not limited to [one insurance company] or to disability insurance. "What we are already starting to see with the Katrina victims is insurers playing all kinds of games with policyholders trying to dupe them into undersettling their claims. State Farm and Allstate have already been sued for fraud by the attorney general of Mississippi and this is only the beginning.

"The insurance industry out of control," says Bourhis. "It's much worse than anything we have seen with Enron, Worldcom or the like...and there are NO federal anti fraud protections whatsoever.  With regard to state laws, policyholder protections in most states are woefully inadequate and are in desperate need of being improved."

From the Washington Post recently: JACKSON, Miss. -- Cisco Systems Inc. chief executive John Chambers said a Mississippi woman whose family lost everything in Hurricane Katrina inspired his company to make a $40 million donation to schools affected by the storm. The first $20 million will go to southern Mississippi schools to provide wireless Internet service and other technology services. The other $20 million will go to schools in other states hit by Katrina.

FEMA - CAN'T LIVE WITH 'EM, CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT 'EM - Interesting figures recently published by FEMA. One can only be awestruck by the actual numbers associated with Katrina:

1 Less than one percent of the peak population of over 321,000 evacuees once housed in congregate shelters remain in such facilities -- virtually all of whom are today located in only three states (Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi).
5 Hurricane-related damage spurred disaster declarations in all 5 Gulf Coast states, following the most widespread and catastrophic series of disasters in the nation's history.
45 A record-setting 44 states and the District of Columbia were given emergency declarations to cover expenses related to sheltering millions of evacuees forced from their homes by Katrina and Rita.
70 Responding to the hurricanes resulted in 24-hour activation of the National Response Coordination Center and other operations centers for more than 70 days - their longest continuous activation ever.
96 Roughly 96 percent of Katrina and Rita evacuees who had been in congregate shelters found alternative housing by mid-October.
3,000 A national network of 3,000 case managers is being organized by United Methodist Committee on Relief and the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster to meet unprecedented case management and long-term recovery needs of thousands of families. International donations were used to provide $66 million to assist with this program.
14,000 More than 14,000 federal personnel have been deployed to help state and local officials along the Gulf Coast recover from Katrina and Rita.
60,000 More than 60,000 homes in Mississippi and Louisiana have been determined to be completely destroyed using sophisticated aerial mapping, and aid is flowing to those households along with the thousands of others receiving property reimbursement grants from FEMA daily.
500,000 More than 500,000 households have received three months of rental assistance under FEMA's Transitional Housing Assistance Program.
1.2 Million FEMA's Transitional Housing Assistance Program has provided nearly $1.2 million in cash assistance to eligible households to help with their immediate housing needs.
1.4 Million To date, nearly 1.4 million families have received financial assistance from FEMA to help with re-establishing their lives in the wake of historic devastation along the Gulf Coast.
181 Million FEMA has approved $181 million in Community Disaster Loans to date, the first of many that will help keep essential services online in the hardest hit communities.
4.4 Billion Nearly $4.4 billion dollars in FEMA assistance has already been provided to eligible individual households across the Gulf Coast States for property loss and home damage, helping to get individuals and families on the road to recovery and rebuilding their lives.

As of November 16th, through Amendment No. 10 to Notice of a Major Disaster Declaration, James N. Russo, of FEMA is appointed to act as the Federal Coordinating Officer for this declared disaster. This action terminates the appointment of Vice Admiral Thad Allen of the United States Coast Guard as Federal Coordinating Officer for this disaster.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will take requests until Nov. 30 for maintaining temporary Blue Roofs on structures damaged by Hurricane Katrina.  All eligible maintenance requests received prior to close of business on Nov. 30 will be completed by contractors, according to the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency , Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and the USACE.

On December 1, 2005 -- the previously announced conclusion for FEMA's direct payment hotel/motel program -- direct federal emergency assistance reimbursements for hotel and motel rooms occupied by evacuees will end. FEMA has an aggressive plan to help place these families in longer-term housing prior to December 1.

To date, FEMA has provided more than 500,000 households a total of $1.2 billion in transitional housing assistance. These funds were designed to offer those forced out of their communities and neighborhoods the flexibility to choose where to relocate and re-establish their lives. After December 1, for example, evacuees eligible for FEMA individual assistance payments, including transitional housing, could use their own grants to pay directly for temporary housing in hotels and motels or for transitional housing such as apartments or rental houses.

However, in Louisiana and Mississippi, where much of the housing stock was destroyed in the storms, available housing is still scarce. In those two states, the lead FEMA recovery official for the state has been given temporary hotel and motel reimbursement waiver authority. That authority will allow for short-term extensions of direct payments for hotel and motel rooms, as needed for the approximately 12,000 hotel and motel rooms occupied by evacuees in those two states.

Evacuees who have not yet registered with FEMA may be eligible for FEMA's rental assistance program, which covers certain households displaced by Rita or Katrina who were formerly homeowners or renters in the impacted areas. For individuals and families who were displaced from federally subsidized low-income housing by Rita or Katrina or for displaced homeless persons, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has a similar housing assistance program that can also be provided by registering with FEMA.

For other needs that cannot be directly met by FEMA, such as financial counseling, unemployment assistance, job locators and other social services, evacuees will be referred to appropriate state, local and voluntary organizations.

These efforts will also be complemented by the $66 million case management grant recently awarded by FEMA to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD). The case management program, involving a nationwide system of 3,000 case managers, is dedicated to assisting disaster survivors with unmet needs, from longer-term housing to social services. This national network of trained individuals working through a shared computer system will offer the connections needed for national coordination.

Seniors who suffered losses after Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast don’t have to worry about being hit a second time because they receive disaster funds. This advice from the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is good news for the elderly. As a rule, Social Security benefits are taxed if the amount is above the figure set by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Anyone on food stamps or Medicaid could lose these benefits if their income for the year is too high.

Not to worry. Senior Deputy Federal Coordinating Officer, Michael Bolch said, “When elderly [people] get a FEMA check, the government understands that it is to help them get back to where they were before the hurricane. It is not counted as income.. The elderly won’t have a penny of this assistance taxed and it won’t affect their eligibility to continue receiving any other benefits.” Disaster assistance is never considered as income by the IRS, regardless of a person’s age. As part of FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Program, a homeowner could receive a grant from the state to protect their home against a disaster in the future by making it stronger and safer. These funds are also not taxable.

More than 50,000 displaced individuals are now housed in over 18,000 travel trailers or mobile homes to meet their temporary housing needs, officials from FEMA and MEMA announced on November 15th. "Since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast , we have been working continuously to provide displaced residents with temporary shelter. In 77 days, we have housed a city the size of Hattiesburg ," Gov. Haley Barbour said.

While the number of Katrina survivors now housed is good progress, it is still well short of what is needed.

Mark Proulx 
Gulf Coast News 
Yahoo Messenger as "mxsushi"

P.O. BOX 2550 

P.O. BOX 429
BAY ST. LOUIS, MS 39520 

P.O. BOX 2790
BAY ST. LOUIS, MS 39521 

312 HWY 90 
BAY ST. LOUIS, MS 39520 

Report 1 - 9/6/05
Report 2 - 9/7/05
Report 3 - 9/8/05
Report 4 - 9/9/05
Report 5 9/10/05
Report 6 - 9/10/05
Report 7 - 9/11/05
Report 8 - 9/13/05
Report 9 - 9/14/05
Report 10 9/15/05
Report 11 - 9/17/05
Report 12 - 9/18/05
Report 13 - 9/22/05
Report 14 - 9/25/05
Report 15 9/26/05
Report 16 9/27/05
Report 17 "Making the Journey"-10/1/05
Report 18 "I Wasn't Supposed to by In the story"-10/3/05
Report 19: "Common Themes" - 10/4/05 
Report 20 - Six Weeks Report Card - 10/6/05
Report 21 - Former President George Bush Visits -10/11/05
Report 22 - Winding Down: The Journey Out - 10/12/05
Report 23 - Two Months Out - 10/20/05
Report 24 - The Good and the Bad - 10/22/05
Mark Gets Hit by Wilma - Power out at home - 10/26/05
Report 25 - Surviving the Beast - Again - 10/31/05
Report 26 - Physician Stands his Ground 11/2/05
Report 27 -The Internet Search for Answers - 11/5/05
Report 28 - Rude Awakenings - 11/11/05
Report 29 - Gentrification, How it Begins - 11/13/05

About the author:
Mark Proulx family has deep roots in Bay St. Louis and Hancock County. He currently lives in Deerfield, Florida. He has a communications background in journalism and graduated from USM in 1982 but returned to school later and works now as a bio-engineer.. His father retired from the Air Force and was stationed once at Keesler. To see Mark's earlier posts, visit the GCN Post Katrina Message Board.


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