A year ago, Hurricane Katrina punched Mississippi right between the eyes. It was our nationís worst national disaster, one of Biblical proportions that pushed the envelope beyond anything imaginable. But Katrina didnít knock out Mississippi. We stood. We held. And weíre fighting back by pushing the envelope ourselves, doing the unprecedented things required to recover from this unprecedented storm.
A year later, our state is writing a new book on how to rebound from a disaster. Weíve got a long way to go, but words canít express how proud I am of Mississippians. I know our poise under pressure has changed a lot of old misconceptions about our state.
If Katrina has taught Mississippians anything, it is that true recovery and relief begin with those willing to go beyond convention. We further have learned that relief begins locally. It is a function of our community, not of Washington. While government agencies failed to push the envelope Ė paralyzed by the status quo and oblivious to Katrinaís magnitude Ė Mississippians acted.
Where there were no lights, no phones, no water, no electricity and even no homes in those dark days following Hurricane Katrina, individuals, faith-based organizations and good corporate citizens delivered immediate needs to Katrinaís victims. Weíll long remember that.
As an overwhelmed FEMA was devolving from the nationís foremost relief agency to the equivalent of a dirty, four-letter word, Mississippians cried, then hugged each other and got to work rebuilding our state Ė FEMA or no FEMA. Weíre still working today, building on our experience. Thatís a testament to the strength of Mississippiansí character, and to the quality of our local and state elected officials. As your Senator, Iíve never been prouder to represent Mississippi.
Reflecting Mississippi as a whole, our Congressional delegation has worked in concert, irregardless of political party. Weíve steered billions of dollars toward Mississippiís needs. That includes: grants to homeowners who lost it all; federal reimbursements for cities, towns, utilities, and the stateís Medicaid program which freed up millions to go toward our recovery, and funding to rebuild the coastís veterans home. All is either happening now or the effects will soon be felt.
Where do we go from here? We continue working steadily and surely. For the long term, Mississippi and the other Gulf States are part of the ďGo Zone,Ē a designation giving special tax incentives throughout the Katrina and Rita-struck region. This will help reestablish businesses, and it gives us a huge advantage in attracting new ones, too, an advantage few states can match.
The insurance situation is perhaps our greatest remaining challenge. Unlike individual Mississippians, many insurance companies are unwilling to push the envelope, to look for new and innovative ways to help people. Thatís why thousands of insurance claims from desperate, displaced folks along the coast remain unsettled. The proof is evidenced by scores of empty slabs with owners still awaiting their insurance settlements.
Iím suing my insurance company, but I donít care if I get a nickel. Iím doing it on behalf of those folks along a 90-mile stretch of coastline who are stuck with a slab, a mortgage and no insurance check. Like most on the coast, Iíve been through many hurricanes, and my claims for wind damage have been paid multiple times by my insurance company. Now that we have endured the worst hurricane in American history, insurers say the wind didnít cause any damage? Thatís not credible, and it wonít stand.
In the Senate Iím also looking at changes to the national flood insurance program and scrutinizing the rules governing the insurance industry. And, frankly, Iím eying every legislative vehicle moving toward final action in the Senate as an opportunity for additional Mississippi hurricane relief.
We never expected Katrina to be so bad. I didnít expect to lose a home. I didnít expect to become a plaintiff, and, frankly, Tricia and I had planned to retire after this year. But Katrina changed all that for us, just as it changed the lives of so many Mississippians. Katrina brought a lot of bad, but it also has taught us a lot of good. Yes, Katrina pushed the envelope, going beyond our worst fears. But Mississippians have proven themselves willing to push that envelope right back at Katrinaís lingering challenges. Without question, America has a new book on hurricane recovery, and though each chapter has its trials and tears, Mississippians will make sure it has a happy ending.
Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column.
Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office) or Email