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Published:April 27th, 2007 15:30 EST
Can and Should America Be Doing More For Katrina Victims?

Can and Should America Be Doing More For Katrina Victims?

By Peter Giordano

Why Are There Still People Suffering? Billions of dollars in damage and a state being evacuated because of a state of emergency as well as more fatalities being reported in Louisiana and the surrounding states than there were on 9/11. Hurricane Katrina. Things are so incomprehensible that some states, Mississippi being one of them, will not even release an official death toll. Websites and organizations alone are stuck guesstimating how drastic one woman could be.

The city of New Orleans with a population just under 500,000 people has had journalists and organizations swarming the city in revival efforts. Approximately 100 miles northeast, lays Pascagoula, MS, which has a population of around 30,000 people.

Katrina was one of the biggest and meanest natural disasters the South has ever seen. Trust me, Hurricane Rita did not help revive anything either. We knew a recovery effort involving one of the poorest states in the nation (Mississippi) would take some time. But, why so much salivating over the one area? Journalists and news organizations a plenty have saturated one city and have left others like Pascagoula, unnoticed and unreported. According to death toll reports, New Orleans was the worst area hit with some tolls even claiming 1,500 lives. Over 80% of the city was flooded and some residents were stranded in the flooded waters for days before help had arrived. Still, these two hurricanes affected more than just one city and more than just one state.

This is the larger issue. It seems that some communities are being overlooked and recovery is taking longer than expected. The state of Mississippi has received more than $30 million dollars and the governor, Haley Barbour is just sitting on it. Not to mention the millions, perhaps billions he has received from Congress, thousands remain homeless. Celebrities holding various telethons have also raised millions of dollars. In 2005, singer Faith Hill was able to raise over 30 million dollars in donations, and not one million of that was spent in providing these unfortunates with homes again. I highly doubt the generous Americans of our nation are aware of what happened to the money they donated. Many of them must be certain their money has been put to good use two years later. Things in 2007 are looking bright again for the city of New Orleans, but not for the community of Pascagoula, MS. Pascagoula is in Jackson County, one of the poorest counties in the nation; it is the poorest in the state of Mississippi. It is in desperate need of volunteers and organizations to help rebuild homes and in essence, save lives. How can one community, perhaps the most devastated of all be only 100 miles away from recovery and yet so far away?

More volunteers like Jeff Gordon and organizations like Mississippi Homeagain are needed. He is a native West Virginian and a shy carpenter/plumber by trade, whose only revival and disaster relief experiences are limited to a Cheat Lake flood sometime in the 80s. Being a little reluctant at first, he and friend spent a week in Pascagoula in late January of 2007 as part of relief efforts by Mississippi Homeagain, a small philanthropist organization created by Annie Card and Tammy Agard. The 57-year-old handyman knew when help was needed. He spent a week in an old high school gym, away from his home and away from his pets. He and leaders from MS Homeagain embraced the lives of five different families with one thing in common: Katrina.

There was a 76-year-old African American by the name of Houston Banks. His kitchen was in shambles until Gordon and others installed new cabinets and tiling. According to Gordon, those countertops and cabinets "are good enough to eat off of" is what Banks told him. Then there was Miss Gladys. That was not her real name, but just what some of the volunteers called her. She had a terrible breathing problem due to the mold build up and water damage in her walls, which becomes a big problem in such a hot environment. Gordon fixed that problem as best he could by redoing her dry wall and her electrical wirings.

"The experience was both rewarding and extremely depressing. There were overwhelming amounts of work. The experience was just heart wrenching," Gordon said with a choke in his throat.

Gordon sees the need, but one man can only do so little. Mississippi is in dire need of government help, but the magnitude of the problem runs so deep. There are many stories out there of a Houston Banks and a Miss Gladys that are going untold. America needs to hear them.

"Stories must be written about Mississippi to tell Americans to mobilize and volunteer to rebuild," Gordon said.

Mississippi Homeagain is just one of the small organizations out there. It does not have the resources that a FEMA has and by no means the federal government, but it seems to be the little organizations like MS Homeagain and small churches out there that are giving these people homes again. Still, many of these volunteers have no skill in carpentry or rebuilding homes for that matter. In some cases, the effort is there, but with no skill to complete the task.

With this, I urge journalists out there to stop concentrating on just one centralized area; you are alienating a whole state. Write a story that is meaningful, one that will hit home and into the heart of Americans. Do not just report the same news over and over again like the most news outlets do these days. Log onto Mississippi for more information, volunteers will always be needed.