All I can say is Holy F**K
. At no point in my life have I seen destruction on this scale ever. I've been through a tornado in Alabama, seen the destruction of years of war and neglect in Bosnia and Kosovo, and driven through and flown over much of Iraq during and after the war and it doesn't even come close to what I saw the last seven days in Mississippi.
For reference, you can Google Earth the area between Pascagoula, MS and Pass Christian, MS. We were working with/for FEMA in Harrison County, MS doing pre and post inspections for people who needed emergency shelters becasue their homes were damaged and unsafe to live in. Looking at the Google Earth picture, find HWY 90 and the railroad tracks that run along side it, and erase 99% of the buildings south. Do this along the entire length of the Gulf all the way to the western edge of Louisiana and you'll have an idea what I saw. It is indescribable and when I looked at my pictures, they just don't do justice. North of the tracks/HWY 90, the destruction is still evident, just not as extreme. There are areas where there is no damage and areas where flooding and tornadoes wreaked havoc on a similar scale to the shoreline. (For those who have been to Biloxi and the casinos that were in the water, those casinos now reside in their parking lots, brought there by storm surge.)
Now, on to FEMA. Despite reports to the contrary, FEMA is working hard. What they don't have is an efficient system or the people to operate it. Everything is done on paper with no computer tracking whatsoever. 13000+ requests are piled in a travel trailer that is being used as an office. If a change needs to be made to a request, FEMA personnel have to go into this trailer and find the original request on the original piece of paper it was written on. In the attempt to reduce the time to get trailers to people, some paperwork was not completed or just plain lost. This paper system is what is causing the problems.
The process for getting an emergency shelter (travel RV trailers) works like this (conceptually): a request is made for a shelter, FEMA verifies the request by ensuring said house is damaged, an inspector is sent to the address to find out if the property can hold the trailer (working sewer connection, electricity capability, and water), using the diagram provided by the inspector a contractor delivers and installs the trailer, another inspector completes an inspection ensuring the installation is complete and to standard, requester moves into trailer (up to 18 months). In reality: request is made, inspector checks property, contractor delivers and installs, person moves into trailer, another inspector checks installation was correct. In this case, the reality is necessary. The sheer number of requests means verification and waiting for a final inspection would be time consuming and cause many to sleep in cars and tents even longer than they already have. Kudos to FEMA for stepping outside the red tape in Harrison County and making it happen. FEMA officials in other counties are holding the keys to trailers that were delivered until the final inspection can be completed causing families to sleep in cars and tents for up to several days with a fully functioning trailer only feet away from them.
Much of what we did was helping FEMA close the gap between the requests and the property inspection that must be done prior to a travel trailer being delivered. FEMA was/is moving approximately 400 trailers a day from this one lot (there are more in other counties). Not too shabby for an agency being protrayed as incompetent by the media.
Overall, I'm glad I got to go. I learned a lot. Despite some problems and frustration, I'm still getting phone calls from people my team helped thanking us.
For the .orgers in the military, while we were greatly received for the help we provided in MS, we got far more hugs and thanks for doing our jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The attached pic is from south of HWY 90 along the coast in Biloxi. The concrete slabs of what used to be houses can be seen. The boat shown on land was already there when Katrina hit. It's name is the SS Camille, in honor of the hurricane that left it there years ago. All of the coast looks just like this.