Welcome to GulfCoastNews.com

Keesler - A Key Player in the Coast's Recovery
Katrina Damages Total more than $900-Million

by Keith Burton - GCN     Filed 1/9/06

While the national and local media and politicians talk about how the casino industry will be the salvation of the Coast, people have forgotten that is it largely Keesler A.F.B. that is the most significant player regarding the local economy with an economic impact of over $1.8-billion a year.

For many Coast residents who do not have any connection to the huge training base, Keesler is like city within a city, but one you don't visit often. It has long played a huge role in the Coast's economy, but with the advent of casinos, it seems the glitter gets the attention. But until the base gets back on its feet, any recovery for much of the coast and the thousands of people who depend on the base will be slow.

Keesler A.F.B. in Biloxi suffered nearly $900-million in damages from Hurricane Katrina with many of its military housing damaged or destroyed.

Many people do not realize how badly Katrina hurt the base. Katrina flooded nearly half of the entire base including the central section of the base and almost half of the runway. Its hospital, which served the thousands of military retirees on the Coast, and many of base's other services, were flooded and have been closed to damages. These include the base commissary, Base Exchange, and numerous offices and classes. The base has established temporary locations for the Commissary and some other services, but all will have to be replaced. Over 4 months after the hurricane, many of Keesler's housing remains empty and severely damaged and the hospital is still not open. Both retired and active duty military personnel have had to seek out private physicians and medical care.

Biloxiís superintendent of Schools, Dr. Paul Tisdale, says most of Keeslerís children and their families were transferred from the Coast. The children are no longer in the areaís schools. Currently, Keesler is operating with half of its normal contingent of full time personnel. The following was provided to GCN by Keesler A.F.B.

* Keesler's supported population prior to Katrina was approximately 32,000:
- 10,600 Active duty
- 7,000 Family members
- 3,000 Civilian employees
- 11,000 Retirees
* Keesler's supported population today (January 2006) is approximately 24, 520:
- 4,847 Active duty
- 3,804 Family members
- 2,263 Civilian employees
- 11,000 Retirees
- 2,606 Contractors
* 95 percent of Keesler's infrastructure was damaged by Hurricane Katrina
* Keesler sustained more than $900 million in damage
* About 1,000 homes were damaged (uninhabitable)
* Hospital sustained major damage - it is providing limited care and plans to be fully operational by October 2006
* Main Base Exchange/Commissary sustained major damage - will be demolished
* During the storm, more than 6,000 sheltered. Personnel and family members were sheltered in seven designated shelters on Keesler AFB.

* During the storm, 150 dogs and 80 cats were sheltered at the base gym
* After the storm, about 2,400 non prior service students, TDY personnel and family members were evacuated (airlift)
* 3,000 remaining personnel (and some families) were relocated in billeting or dorm rooms. Most families were evacuated and still have not returned

Keesler officials say they are faced with many of the same problems that area residents have. The loss of so many homes and apartments, both on and off base, means that they have nowhere to put staff and families. That means that it will be some time before they can get the base back up to normal.

Money to rebuild the base and get its housing back in shape is coming, as part of the $29-billion Katrina aid package. The governor's office says Keesler is receiving: $43.4 million to help rebuild Keesler Air Force Base,
$45 million for the Keesler Medical Center, and $324.8 million for housing at Keesler Air Force Base.

How Keesler uses this rebuilding money, and the future of base, will play a key role in the Coast's recovery. GCN will have more on this story soon.

Welcome to GulfCoastNews.com