Carolina Visitors Learn About Volunteers' Role In Katrina Recovery

"This table has canned and dried food on it, and over there we have health and beauty supplies," said a coordinator at Camp Victor, as he pointed to tables filled with food and supplies.

On Wednesday, guests from Bluffton, South Carolina, listened to the story of how volunteers helped convert the once-vacant building, into a huge food distribution center.

"We saw lots of 18 wheelers coming in and shot locks off the doors and opened it up and started unloading supplies and equipment," Mayor Connie Moran explained.

And today, the Government Street building still houses thousands of volunteers who are rebuilding homes, battered by Katrina.

"The facility we're in right now is a perfect example of something wonderful coming out of something horrible," said Bluffton Councilman Charlie Wetmore. "Now here we are, standing in it two years later, and it still serves the purpose, and the function of helping to rebuild after the storm."

Bluffton leaders seemed impressed with the way Ocean Springs juggled the flow of food, supplies, and volunteers.

"Camp Victor and having something established like that, just the foresight to get the building," said Bluffton Mayor Hank Johnston. "I think they are not just working on the recovery, they're planning for the next hurricane."

The visitors also learned how Ocean Springs police and firefighters coordinated rescues, how public works crews handled the mountains of debris, and why, almost two years after the hurricane, some rebuilding projects still haven't started.

"We've heard horror stories about FEMA and what communities go through," said Bluffton Engineer Jeff McNesby. "And we come down here and we find out it's true. You spend a lot of time on paperwork."

"This has been so informative, I'm scared to death," Mayor Johnston said. "Scared to death of all the work that we have to do to get ready. Even though I think we have a very good evacuation plan, there's still lots of things that we have to go back and tweak."

Bluffton leaders chose to tour Ocean Springs because both communities are close to the water, they have the same size, population, art and historic district. Before going home on Thursday, the Bluffton visitors will focus on other Katrina-related issues, like the storm's impact on businesses, insurance costs, and affordable housing.