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Wrong Side of the Tracks

Posted By Aaron Thompson, Mar 24, 2008

Mike Davis, one of my history teachers, said to always start off with geography. So let's begin with geography of the Gulf Coast. The Gulf Coast is shaped like an upside down "T" with the Gulf of Mexico to the south, a small bay to the west and a larger, longer bay to the east. Gulfport, the city we are staying in, is towards the middle of the "T". Biloxi is to the east at the end of the T. Pass Christian is to the west, at the other end of the T. The flat part of the T, along the coast, is traversed by a rail line. Winds blow, north, from off shore.

Like many towns, across the train tracks means the poor side. In Mississippi, this is often the "black" side of town. The reason for this, in older towns, is that the wind would blow the trash from the good side of town to the poor side of town. The wealthy here often live right by the beach in big beautiful houses.

When Katrina hit, a 30 foot wave of water surged into the Gulf Coast. At the edges of the T water poured in from the gulf and the two bays. The casino barges were washed from their off shore locations onto the Biloxi landmass. The damage to the houses along the beaches and on the T's was immense. The sea took almost everything.

The railroad formed a type of natural barrier for those further inland. Their houses were instead struck by 140mph winds. Most of the houses on higher ground were rendered unlivable by the hurricane. To be fair, they were barely livable before the storm.

Katrina is not just the failure of our government to provide adequate emergency resources. Katrina aggravated the preexisting problems of structural racism in our country. Furthermore, the recovery effort has ignored those pre-existing problems.

Mississippi's reconstruction effort targeted those that experienced flood damage. I am not in anyway attempting to minimized the phenomenal losses of those families. They deserve our help as well. In fact, we spent Sunday, putting the finishing touches on a house that had been washed away and rebuilt by volunteers. However, we should be also helping those at the lowest rungs of the social ladder.

Those who experienced wind damage alone do not qualify for assistance under the Mississippi three billion dollar program federally funded disaster relief program. The neighborhood I walked in today was devastated by winds. Houses were crushed. Many were caved in. No one in that neighborhood has ever had the money to repair their homes and probably never will.

I counted quite a number of FEMA trailers. How long are these people supposed to stay in these? Why isn't the nation helping them? Do they deserve less help? They don't need much help to get them back just to some sort of starting point. The average MEMA cottage, an alternative to the temporary trailers, costs 40,000 including installation. It has a life span of 15 - 30 yeas and is designed to withstand up to 150 mph winds. Those in the flood plains were eligible for up to 150,000$ in aid. Just recently, the Governor has attempted to divert $600 million from the housing assistance fund to build a new port extension. This money was specifically earmarked to help low income families. Why are the barriers still in the way?

I can expand on the political situation a bit later. However, long story short, we are leaving a lot of people behind.