Contractors Makeover Keesler Air Force Base - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

10/26/05

Contractors Makeover Keesler Air Force Base

The limited re-opening of its hospital is one of many signs that Keesler Air Force Base is recovering from the hurricane. Right now hundreds of workers are trying to fix the base's $900 million in storm damage. Keesler will have a slightly different look when all the work is finished.

Of 1,800 homes that were on Keesler Air Force Base, only 800 did well enough in Katrina not to have to be torn down. However, most of what was inside the homes can't be saved. Cleaning crews are throwing out the old to make room for the new.

"Just starting all over," said Sean Lathrop. "Tearing it all out and getting it ready to go again."

All across the base, hundreds of contract workers are prepping buildings damaged by the storm for repairs.

"Principally its still fixing roofs and removing the guts of buildings that are still habitable and beginning the demolition of buildings that were completely destroyed," Major General William Lord said.

Although it wasn't destroyed in the storm, the staff at the Base Exchange know it won't be around much longer. The military has put the BX on a list of facilities to be torn down and rebuilt elsewhere.

"Places like the commissary and the BX will be built on higher ground," said Major Gen. Lord. "Even though those buildings were built only in the last ten years, they've already flooded three or four times."

Also being cleaned out right now, Keesler Medical Center. During Katrina it flooded with four feet of water mixed with diesel fuel. Base officials say getting the hospital back open is one of their top objectives.

"We've received $20 million to begin the reconstruction of the hospital, so the bottom floor has been gutted," said Major Gen. Lord. "The air conditioning system is back up and working. Electrical distribution systems will take longer, but the good news is that probably in January we'll be able to do outpatient care again."

Base officials are shooting for Spring to begin surgeries at the Medical Center.

From new housing to a new commissary, Major General Lord says big plans are in for Keesler's future.

"I think that if you drive on Keesler a year from now, you won't be able to tell there was a hurricane."

This weekend military officials say members of the House Armed Services Committee will tour the base.

by Danielle Thomas

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