Senate Committee Analyzes Coast's Katrina Recovery

As a U.S. Senator and the chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Susan Collins has made two visits to south Mississippi since the hurricane. She admitted she had no idea debris piles still haunted so many south Mississippians.

"When we toured the region again, the hard truth remains, that the devastation is still beyond comprehension," the Maine senator said.

Joseph Lieberman called the hurricane mess America's worst crisis since the great depression.

"We feel a national responsibility to help Mississippi get back to better than it was before Hurricane Katrina," the Connecticut senator said. "And just seeing the coast today tells me, in a very powerful and personal way, how much more we have to do."

The Senate committee came to Gulfport trying to figure out what the area needs to truly recover from Katrina. Lieberman said his group was here "to give hope to people who after a period of time are going to begin to lose it."

Rep. Gene Taylor testified that he did lose it, when he ran into a FEMA roadblock right after the hurricane came ashore.

"When you ask FEMA where are the MREs," Taylor remembered, "let me tell you how close I came to strangling people with my own hands. The answer every time was, 'It's in the pipeline.'"

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's overall response to Katrina didn't sit well with Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn.

"We're running this just like the way we run the rest of the federal government, without any basis of common sense," he said.

There was also this quip from Minnesota Sen. Mark Dayton.

"The most popular bumper sticker around here right now is FEMA, Federal Emergency My Ass," Sen. Dayton said.

Donald Powell didn't defend FEMA. But the new coordinator of recovery and rebuilding for the Department of Homeland Security did testify that progress is being made.

"I'm convinced that I can, and with the members of my staff that we have the necessary resources to fulfill our mission," he said.

Two coast mayors also testified at Tuesday's field hearing. Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr said his citizens were tired and frustrated. But, he said, "Gulfport is coming back, and slowly but surely, we are beginning to heal."

Bay St. Louis Mayor Eddie Favre looked at the committee and said, "We don't ask for pity. We simply ask for assistance."

Favre talked about the city passing a $7 million budget with little or no revenue coming into the Bay.

"Our people are a proud people," he told the committee. "We may be down, but we're far from out."