By Jodi Marze, Lifestyles Editor
The Picayune Item
The impact of natural disasters is extraordianry not only on residents but on the providers of services as well.
April S. Lollar, APR of Coast Electric Power Association, said, “The costs associated with Katrina were upwards of $100 million. As a not-for-profit cooperative, we are eligible for some reimbursement from FEMA/MEMA — although, I believe for Katrina, they also offered assistance to other utilities as well, but that would be a question for them. Of course, they determine what qualifies for reimbursement. To cover the costs that were not reimbursed by FEMA/MEMA, we collected a Katrina Recovery Fee, which was $3 on our members’ monthly bills. This fee was implemented in December 2007 and was terminated in December 2010.
”Costs associated with Isaac were around $2.4 million. We have received some FEMA/MEMA reimbursement at this point, but it is a long process and they are still determining the figures.”
David Hemeter, president of First National Bank of Picayune, said, “Banks prepare themselves for all types of disasters in a variety of ways. As a banker you are always concerned about storms and natural disasters that can adversely affect customers as well as bank employees and their families. It’s always been our goal to have the bank open and functioning at full capacity, as quickly as possible, while always providing safety for customers and employees.
“Stoms can be catastrophic to families. I feel as though all local banks have provided needed, prompt access to funding needs or a loan to purchase or repair their homes. A perfect example is post Katrina — the first day we opened we operated off of generators, no full access to computers or records. Due to inability to get shipments of money from New Orleans ... we had to limit withdrawals.
“We had security in the bank and we found most people to be appreciative to be able to come in and get their funds in a safe environment.”
Was there a positive to the economy post-natural disaster?
Hemeter said, “I can only speak for our bank, but we definitely saw a spike in loans, and deposits from people moving here and bringing proceeds from insurance settlements as they relocated to our area. We had to struggle to keep up with the spike, and then deal with the decline afterwards. But the spike lasted a good two years.”
The spike after Katrina helped not only financial institutions but also local businesses as people struggled to replace home items and return to some sort of normalcy, many of them many of them returning, or just reloating, to Pearl River County.
According to an interview with the state’s Disaster Recovery Division Chief Operations Officer Jon Mabry, in an article found in “Emergency Management,” the impact of Katrina was great on Mississippi.
“There were an estimated 60,000 damaged or destroyed homes in the coastal counties, and this was largely due to the fact that Katrina’s storm surge sent water into places where no one, including FEMA, had ever envisioned water going. So Mississippians first saw that recapturing housing stock was going to be the biggest challenge. Since no one anticipated a surge of this scope, many of those households were not covered by flood insurance, a fact we addressed in our Homeowners Assistance Program.
“Our infrastructure was almost completely inoperable along the coast. Key roads and bridges were destroyed. Police stations, fire stations, public works were severely hampered. On the economic side, recovering businesses were left without basic utilities, but even when those utilities were restored the workers were displaced. This destruction, although obviously most acute in the coastal counties, continued well inland as Hurricane Katrina’s winds sustained hurricane strength well over 150 miles inland. Of the 3 million people in our state, about 1 million suffered damages wrought by Hurricane Katrina. One-third of all Mississippians were touched directly by this storm.
“(Housing) was our biggest recovery challenge. In fact we’ve dedicated $3 billion of the $5 billion to housing recovery. About $2 billion of that was for the Homeowners Assistance Program. Through compensation grants of up to $150,000, this program has helped 28,000 homeowners whose primary residence was damaged or destroyed by Katrina’s unprecedented storm surge.”