Biloxi Questions FEMA Flood Level Changes

Most homes near Myrtle Street and First Street stood up to every natural disaster -- until August 29.

"You can't build for Katrina," FEMA representative David Stearrett told the Biloxi City Council.

George Lawrence is very aware of that. He's living in a FEMA trailer on his First Street property because Katrina washed away his home.

"I think this neighborhood as we knew it probably will never come back," he said.

The question facing Lawrence, the Biloxi City Council, and every other south Mississippi town is how much they should raise building elevations as they plan for the next Katrina. Bill Stallworth says leave the heights alone.

"Are we not having a knee jerk reaction to a 100 year storm?" Stallworth asked.

His question was answered by the FEMA representative.

"First of all, this is not a knee jerk reaction," Stearrett said.

And then, he explained why his agency now thinks post Katrina flood levels should rise four to six feet.

"The flood elevations on the current flood maps are too low," he said.

Stallworth didn't agree.

"If you take Katrina out of the equation all together, then obviously what the current levels were were working just fine," the ward two councilman said.

So despite all the hurricane devastation, Councilmen Stallworth and Lawrence, the two Biloxi councilmen who represent the city's east side, aren't sure this disaster should be the basis for raising FEMAs flood elevation levels.

"One hurricane shouldn't set the standard. That's the problem I have," said Lawrence.

Stallworth had a similar response to the four to six foot flood level increase.

"We've got to bring some common sense to this. And this isn't common sense to me," he said.

FEMA representatives are meeting with every city and county government in south Mississippi to explain the recommended flood elevation changes. Right now, nobody is required to adopt the changes, so you get permission to rebuild your home at the current flood level. FEMA won't officially enforce new flood maps for another 14 months.