Friday, December 30, 2005

This is on 2nd Street In Pass Christian. The Pass is the only city in Harrison County that took FEMA's advice and contracted the Army Corps of Engineers to remove debris instead of a private local contractor. They have also shown the slowest progress in debris removal in the county.
This photo by Joshua Norman

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Finally, I am getting around to answering some questions from earlier.
Frauding and the Red Cross:
Sure there is. Fraud is an American institution. I have not seen or heard any direct stories though. There is also not much the Red Cross can do about it. They are short-staffed and in debt and therefore can only put Band-Aids on their problems for now.

The mall:
It's open for business. About half of the stores are already open and nearly all should return before the summer. Retail in general is about at 50% of pre-storm levels Coast-wide in the places that weren't destroyed. Many businesses whose offices were destroyed are quickly moving inland and/or into trailers. Nearly all of Pass Christian's businesses are now in trailers in Memorial Park on Beach Blvd.

Where the cash from all these benefit albums/books/art shows/etc. is going:
It is very hard to say. As a former development worker in the third world I can say that nothing is harder than getting money to someone or something that needs it the right way. In all likelihood, most of it is going to someone's idea of a good cause (read: pet project). Sometimes that cause involved God and/or Jesus. Sometimes it involves music. Sometimes it involves schools. The need is so spread out here in Mississippi, I'd be hesitant to say one place needs it worse than others.
That said, there is no doubt the schools have suffered greatly here on the coast. Mississippi is consistently ranked in the bottom five states (often below Puerto Rico too) in education standards and success rates. Considering that so many schools were wiped out, so many teachers were dislocated or forced to leave because of a lack of shelter and that things were already so bad there, it's a safe bet your money will go a long way towards a good thing. To donate, here is a list with contact information for all the local school districts:
Simply call up your favorite district (the ones near us are Harrison, Jackson and Hancock Counties in addition to Biloxi, Gulfport, Moss Point, Ocean Springs, Bay-Waveland, PAscagoula, Pass Christian, and Long Beach) or send an email and say you want to help. I can guarentee you they'd take it.That said, supporting the cultural community could be just as important. The South prides itself on its art and culture and it is also a big money maker for it. So keeping the arts alive here would probably help in the long run, it's just not where I'd recommend sending my aid money right now.

Casino check-off:
Imperial Palace is fully functioning and ready to take your insurance settlement check anytime you want.
The Palace is going to open one bar and some gaming in time for New Year's.
Isle of Capris is mostly fully funcitonal. Still a few hiccups but it's bascially back. And that's it for now. More updates on that to come.

That's all. Not as many questions as I thought on second look. Remember, we are here to pontificate, so throw us some questions every now and again and I promise we will work harder to answer them.

Finally, before I go, I need to plug a story I wrote that did not get as much play as I would have liked. I know this is going to sound like I am tooting my own horn, but screw it, I think it's an important sotry and that not enough people who matter are going to read it.
Here's the lede, courtesy of the Sun Herald:
Dr. J. Chester McKee has the most unusual distinction of being someone who was invited to Jackson twice in his lifetime to consult on the recovery from Mississippi's worst natural disaster.
The first time was after Hurricane Camille, when Gov. John Bell Williams invited the former Mississippi State University professor to be the director of the Governor's Emergency Council, formed on Sept. 6, 1969, with the directive of coordinating and guiding Mississippi's recovery and rebuilding effort.
The second trip came almost exactly 36 years later when Jim Barksdale, chairman of the Governor's Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal, invited McKee back to Jackson to share some of his lessons learned.
"The problems were pretty much the same as we've got now for Katrina," McKee said by telephone last week.
The GEC disbanded after three years with some success, but most of its suggestions went unrealized, said former GEC members and staffers.
Here's the whole story:

Again, thanks for reading! More photos to come...

Monday, December 26, 2005

Well, it was an uplifting holiday weekend for me on the Coast. Out-of-town volunteers and the people of South Mississippi proved again how much solemn resolve they could muster to share their hearts with neighbors in need.
On Saturday, I went over to Bay St. Louis to cover a Christmas eve party at an emergency distribution center. After wandering around for a good bit of time, I glommed onto little Maddy, a 3-year-old who was much less concerned about the fact that she was at a party than with piling dirt and grass into a little pile. Story follows, of course courtesy of Sun Herald:

Madeline "Maddy" Bellman intently piled handfuls of brown grass and dirt into a small mound in the outfield of Bay St. Louis' McDonald Field during a Christmas celebration Saturday.

"I'm making a mountain with a straw on top," the 3-year-old said.

A pile of gift-wrapped shoeboxes next to Maddy along the outfield fence dwarfed her and her mountain. The gifts, organized and brought down by volunteers with Quota International, a community service group, would be handed out later in the morning to the 400 children invited to the party.

"The shoeboxes came from over 20 cities throughout the United States," said Vicki Miller, a member of the group's local chapter who was dressed up like a rock 'n' roll elf, complete with glittery white stars painted on her face. "The boxes have crayons, school supplies and dolls for girls and boys."

At the party, recorded Christmas music could be heard coming from a red-and-white striped tent placed over home plate. Inside, a band named "Tribute" set up on a makeshift dance floor of plywood and shipping palettes.

The band started up.

Maddy, looking content from a project finished, stood and yelled, "Now it's finished!"

"Here's your flag, honey," said her mother, Angela Bellman. Maddy stuck the flag, a straight twig with a piece of grey duct tape at the tip, into her mound.

Sleigh bells sounded in the distance and a group of children playing football and bingo looked up the street.

Santa Claus walked up to the field and Maddy took off from her mother's side to meet him.

"Santa!" Maddy yelled at him, as if Santa didn't know his own name.

"Ho, Ho, Ho!" he said loudly.

Moments later, the glare of a weakened sun filtering through a heavy Coast fog made Maddy squish her face to protect her eyes and then look down. There on the ground she found her mountain. As quickly as that, Maddy forgot about Santa and went back to piling grass on the mound.

A while later, after making her mountain even higher and intermittently running through the crowd, Maddy curled up on one of the folding chairs. She sat backwards on it and rested her chin on the seat back.

It was not yet noon, but Maddy had already had a full Christmas Eve day.


The story was twice as long, but so goes the heavy hand of editing for a daily newspaper.

I went along with some volunteers on Sunday, Christmas day, who used their own holiday to prepare, pack and deliver turkey dinners to the needy. I met some really interesting people at the place, including a Duke University student who dragged his parents down from NC to do some volunteering on the Coast. He was a public policy student at the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy, a great school with some really smart people coming out of it.

Sorry, my mind started wandering there for a sec. Where was I? Oh yeah, meals to the needy.

Another interesting guy I met there was Jamey Turner, who was entertaining the volunteers with a bunch of cognac snifters that, with wet fingers that he slid atop their rims, he played Mozart and Beethoven on.

Story is at the following link:

Again, I don't know who's doing the editing, but they hacked off the lede in the online story. I was proud of that sentence because I used both 'nary' and 'awash.' Maybe that's why they hacked it. Oh well.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

For everyone still tuning in, I want to wish you all a very happy holiday season and new year filled with luck, joy and excitement (if that's what you're into).
Down here, the first casino reopened today after being out of commission for 116 days. I hear they have three floors of gaming delight re-opened, but no buffets or restaurants to complete the hedonism.
On a state-of-the-coast note, November unemployment figures for Mississippi came in yesterday. In the six coastal counties, over 34,000 people were unemployed and seeking assistance, around 17 percent of the labor force.
I will be covering some Christmas events over the weekend and I'll try to do a better job of keeping you all updated.
Again, Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

And I close this post in Long Beach where all the firmen from out of state who volunteered there after the storm surprised their local colleagues this weekend by driving down a van load of gifts for all their kids and families. It was good to see some of these rough and tough firemen in Long Beach finally shed a tear or two.
This photo by Joshua Norman

Then there are the little versions for you to take home.
This photo by Joshua Norman

Every firemen's kid in Biloxi was able to get at least three gifts. Here they are after being sorted. A big hello to Woodbridge, NJ, for lending a hand with this shipment of toys.
This photo by Joshua Norman

Nothing says the holidays like taking out a classic car and putting it on display.
This photo by Joshua Norman

Thought I'd continue the holiday theme with an impressive showing in Long Beach with the lights display. Reminds me of home...
This photo by Joshua Norman

Friday, December 09, 2005

"Don we now our gay apparel....." Happy Holidays, South Mississippi style.
This photo by Joshua Norman

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Hey folks.
No, the blog hasn't closed down yet.
I know it's been a while since the last one. We've been a little busy and lazy.
Our time recently has been filled with working and farting around.
As the Gulf Coast settles into the minutae of rebuilding, I guess I can't figure out as well what would be of interest to the outside world.
I'll start running some of the more interesting tidbits of info again that I get. (Example: found out that Long Beach alone had 4 million tons of debris.)
I don't know what my cohort's plans for this thing are.

Update on the Coast:
Debris cleanup is about 50% done. At least for all the debris that they're aware of.
The raging battle between slimy insurance adjusters (One of whom, I read in his report, claimed that Katrina was a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 75 mph when it hit shore) and homeowners goes on.
Illegal immigrants continue to get ripped off by contractors. I've heard (from both immigration authorities and immigrants) that subcontractors will frequently call immigration rather than pay illegals what they are owed.
Rebuilding has not really begun yet. The "new" construction I've seen has largely been small, cheap stuff way inland.
The Governer's Commission has big plans and strong assurances that their big plans will be put into place. To see their big plans, which are interesting, go to
I am personally skeptical of the high-minded values of modern urban designers winning out over the almighty green of developers and their interests.
Looting, apparently, still continues. I've heard from several Long Beach residents saying they've seen and dealt with shady individuals south of the CSX tracks on several occasions. As one woman told me, "They've stolen every last blade of grass at my place."
Housing is a funny issue now. There are still a lot of people in tents. They are quickly running out of public land on which to put trailers. Towns don't want to give up the land for it because of the strain on city services and the fact that there are still "emergency" trailer parks in Florida that are 3 years old now.
Jobs are still plentiful, they're just not good jobs. That is a large part of the reason why the Latino population is so succesful; immigrant laborers will do almost anything. However, as FEMA and Red Cross money dries up, those jobs will be filled up quickly.
We're coming up on the high stress season here. Combine the holidays with the normal PTSD-like symptoms that come up several months after disasters, and we should be in for an interesting holiday ride.
I don't know what else to write about.
Since there are probably only a dozen or two of you folks still reading this, I'll do my best to answer any questions you may have.

My personal info update: I've settled well into my new place. It's only about a mile from my old one, closer to the beach and on higher ground. Go figure.
My girlfriend's dog likes it so much that she's pooped on the floor an average of 1.5 times per week that she's lived there. I've been told that it's a sign of good luck.
I got to go home for Thanksgiving and was relieved that my relatives were largely gentle in their questioning.
I did the StoryCorps thing this weekend during the Giants game. (Which they won. Go Giants.) It's a really interesting project, if you get a chance, I'm gonna go ahead and link another website here: It's great stuff and if you live near where ever they end up, you should check it out, it's great.

And just so those of you still with us know, you will know this blog has ended when I put up what I call, "the money shot," of my colleague showing Hurricane Katrina where the sun don't shine. Yes, there was a wire photo by a professional, but mine was better. So, if you see that, you'll know it's all over but the cryin'.