FEMA: Five years after Katrina

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - By David Elliott – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Moments after Hurricane Katrina stormed into South Mississippi, one of the first federal agencies on the ground in the destruction zone was the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA was charged with restoring order, then leading the effort to administer the billions of dollars in recovery money sent to Mississippi. FEMA, or more accurately the taxpayers of America, obligated $9.8 billion to Mississippi. The money starting flowing and the restoration of the coast was underway.

"Just looking back five years at the total devastation, the loss of government services and infrastructure, it's amazing how far we've come," said Dennis Kizziah, FEMA Director for Recovery in Mississippi.

Kizziah sits at his desk surrounded by photographs of completed projects.

"Just drive down Beach Blvd. Look at how this area is coming back."

Here are some of the key expenditures along the road to recovery:

  • Nearly $3.1 billion in FEMA public assistance to rebuild infrastructure.
  • More than $1.3 billion to help families and individuals meet basic needs.
  • $888 million for public utilities.
  • $644 for the restoration of public buildings.

We're still working with local governments to refine the process and get some current projects completed," Kizziah said.

If you liken FEMA's role to a military operation, it's safe to say the agency is in the drawdown mode.

"In the early days, we had 1,700 staff members here. Today, we have 200 federal workers and contractors and 200 state employees," Kizziah said of the agency's role moving forward.

When asked how much longer FEMA will have a presence on the coast, Kizziah said, "Until the job is done."

Here are some other impressive numbers from the federal aid to Mississippi:

  • FEMA received 275,000 applications for grants.
  • 45,410 families received temporary housing assistance.
  • More than 126,000 Mississippi families have received rental assistance.

When Kizziah was asked about the target in FEMA's back, particularly during the weeks and months after Katrina when people were pointing fingers, shaking fists and raising serious questions, he said, "We're human. It hurt. We felt everyone's pain, but did the best job that we could under difficult circumstances."

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