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calendar   Monday - September 12, 2005

Mississippi Forgotten

imageimageCoastal Cities of Mississippi in the Shadows
Gulfport, MS - (NY TIMES)

Past the razor wire that has been rolled out along the unusable railroad tracks separating the heavily damaged neighborhoods from the destroyed neighborhoods lies the port that gave this city its name. Put generously, it is a mess. The cargo containers are scattered for miles, the poultry freezers are destroyed and 7,300 jobs are in limbo. In the middle of one of the major terminals sits a casino, the Copa, one of a fleet of floating gambling houses that had revitalized the Gulf Coast, pumping taxes into city, county and state governments and providing jobs to some 15,000 people.

Now officials say 8 of the 12 floating casinos appear to be damaged beyond repair, including the Copa, which is slumped onshore, a big pink box with its guts exposed. If the levees had held in New Orleans, the destruction wrought on the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina would have been the most astonishing storm story of a generation. Whole towns have been laid flat, thousands of houses washed away and, statewide, the storm has been blamed for the deaths of 211 people, a toll far higher than those from Hurricanes Andrew, Hugo and Ivan.

But as it is, Mississippi - like the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 - is coping with an almost unimaginable catastrophe, largely overshadowed in the news media’s attention and the national consciousness, in this case by the disaster in New Orleans. On Sunday night, President Bush began his third visit to the region since the storm hit. Two weeks since the hurricane, Gulfport and the neighboring city of Biloxi are no longer fighting for mere survival. Power has been restored to everyone who can receive it, gasoline is flowing at the stations and water is gradually beginning to trickle from faucets, though it is still undrinkable. There is even a man in a pizza costume enticing customers to a local Papa John’s.

But, as the community breathes a collective sigh of relief, the tougher question is beginning to arise: now what? “It looks like we’re going to have to build an economy from the ground up” said Connie Rockco, one of the five supervisors of Harrison County, where Gulfport and Biloxi are located. The casinos employed thousands of people but city and county officials said that just as many were employed in businesses directly related to the casinos, like spas, high-end restaurants, martini bars and pawn shops. About 30,000 people, they estimated, were dependent on the crowds that came to gamble.

“What are they going to do?” Ms. Rockco said. “I mean, they’re done.” In Biloxi, where most of the gambling business was located, individual casinos were 7 of the top 10 local taxpayers in 2004, pumping $11.6 million into the city’s general fund, and an additional $11.6 million into local school and public safety departments.

City revenues for Gulfport and Biloxi are also heavily dependent on the sales tax and property tax, neither of which is going to be pouring in while tourists are absent, residents are struggling to find money for basic needs and thousands of homes are gone. Harrison County officials estimated that anywhere from a quarter to a third of the county’s people are now homeless. Most of the homeowners did not have flood insurance, federal data has shown.

Before the first floating casino opened in 1992, both Biloxi and Gulfport were cities in decline. The seafood industry had been hurting for years because of cheaper foreign imports, and the completion of Interstate 10 across southern Mississippi made it easier for tourists to bypass the Mississippi Coast for the Florida beaches. By the end of the 1980’s, Biloxi was actually losing people.

But in 1990 the State Legislature voted to allow riverboat gambling and the coastal economy became addicted, quickly. Tourists began flocking to the area, hotels began sprouting and the retail economy boomed. The towns of Long Beach and Pass Christian - both of which were leveled by Hurricane Katrina - were flourishing as bedroom communities for Gulfport and New Orleans. Recently, as coastal real estate has grown scarcer in Florida, a condominium boom had been barreling toward Mississippi’s coast. There were more than 50 condominium projects awaiting permits before the hurricane hit, potentially representing thousands of new residents, Harrison County officials said.

The projects had been coming in so fast that several coastal towns had adopted building moratoriums, buying time to figure out how to handle the influx. Now, of course, a surplus of housing is not a problem. “All the things people came to see us for are in disarray,” said Pam Ulrich, the Harrison County administrator.

Question: Why isn’t the media in Mississippi covering the damage and recovery?
Answer: They’d rather spend their time in New Orleans where they can blame Bush for everything.


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Posted by The Skipper   United States  on 09/12/2005 at 06:38 AM   
Filed Under: • Climate-WeatherMedia-Bias •  
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