Mayor of city hit by Katrina heads to Italy to court investors

Published 10:35 pm Saturday, September 9, 2006

Mayor Tommy Longo headed to Italy on Friday to trade disaster response strategies with government officials and to sell business leaders on investing in this hurricane-ravaged city.

Longo said he already has forged close ties with a group of Italian officials who visited Waveland after Hurricane Katrina nearly wiped the city off the map. In December, they had seen televised coverage of Longo’s testimony before a congressional panel investigating the government’s response to Katrina.

“They saw that they could possibly help us here,” said Longo, whose grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Italy.

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In particular, Longo said he is eager to learn how Italian authorities have used alternative energy sources, such as solar power, in responding to earthquakes in remote, mountain regions.

“When they go to these out-of-the-way places, they can get power restored right away,” he said. “They’re rebuilding entire cities using alternative energy sources.”

Longo, whose five-day visit starts in Rome, is scheduled to speak at a conference on public safety. He also plans to use the trip to court company executives.

An Italian clothing retailer already has expressed a strong interest in opening a store in Waveland, said Longo, who declined to name the company.

“We don’t have a clothing store here in town that has reopened, so it’s something that fits,” he said.

Longo said the trip was being financed by Italian business leaders and not by taxpayer dollars.

As to why the Italians may be willing to invest in a small Mississippi town, Longo said: “Like everyone, they fell in love with the resilience and tenacity of our people here. My community kind of sells itself.”

He said trip schedule did not include time for sightseeing.

“It’s going to be pretty hectic and all business,” the mayor said.