What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

ACING THE FACTS A congressional delegation meets with Katrina survivors to find out what South Mississippi needs to speed recovery

Residents: Light a fire under FEMA


DeLisle - Speaking to a congressional delegation on Monday, education leaders in Pass Christian suggested two critical ways to help speed the Coast's recovery and to prevent similar problems after future disasters.

Congress needs to light a fire under FEMA and get behind U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor's insurance reform, the school officials told a 14-member delegation led by Taylor that included House Majority Whip James Clyburn and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

The group toured the campus of DeLisle Elementary and listened to tales of South Mississippi's uphill road to recovery. The group later visited Sally James at a FEMA trailer on Second Street in the Pass.

When Hurricane Katrina destroyed most of the district's classrooms, Pass Christian students of all ages were forced into trailers on the campus of DeLisle Elementary. The campus, in a rural part of the Pass, is hooked to a water well, unlike most schools which run on city waterlines.

The old well was too small to supply water to the new oversized population and Ron Storey, the school district's director of support services, told the members that he wrangled with FEMA for months and eventually got tired of trying.

"We still don't have a well," he said. "Do you know how much kindergartners use the bathroom?"

Storey and other school officials urged the members to push legislation that would change the way FEMA operates and who it answers to.

"There's no one (locally, at FEMA,) who can make a decision on anything," Storey said. "I've been to hundreds of FEMA meetings and have not received one answer to any of my questions at any of those meetings."

Pass Christian Schools Superintendent Sue Matheson said she struggled for weeks with the government over the delivery of the trailers, and after nearly two months, she said dropping the name of a former Pass High graduate helped speed the classrooms-on-wheels.

"You all know Robin Roberts?" Matheson asked the delegation. "I was scheduled to go on 'Good Morning America' the next day and I finally told them that I was going to have to tell the world we still don't have our trailers.

"About an hour later, he called back and said, 'Dr. Matheson, would you mind if we put lights out there? Because we'd like to get started tonight.'

After the storm, more than 85 percent of the district's faculty and students were homeless, living in trailers or with friends, and some in tents. More than 75 percent of students attend class in trailers, according to Beth John, the director of curriculum.

School officials told the delegation that the insurance debacle has prevented dozens of students' parents and teachers from rebuilding homes. Taylor said homes and businesses have not returned, which has hurt the city's taxable income and drastically reduced local school funds.

Pelosi, who called Taylor "Mr. Insurance," said the House will consider his push for all-perils legislation next month.

Clyburn said this week's visit to New Orleans and South Mississippi was to assess the needs and forge new partnerships with local officials.

"I want you all to know that our commitment to you is as genuine as anything we've ever undertaken," he said. "And we will never relent."

Original article published August 14, 2007.

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