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Column: Gulf Coast residents need America’s help

A farmer in south Louisiana once told me that what he feared more than crop failure or $4 soybeans was a localized disaster. A few years before, his farm had received 48 inches of rain between May and July. Needless to say, he never got his crop in.

No matter how hard they tried, he and other farmers in the area couldn’t get Congress to pass a disaster bill to help with their losses. Eventually, the grower sold his land and equipment and got out of farming.

His disaster pales in comparison with that wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but startling similarities exist. Although their losses are staggering, farmers and other residents of south Mississippi, southwest Louisiana and the east Texas Gulf Coast are in a localized disaster, and their requests for assistance are being ignored.

That’s not just the opinion of this writer. Sen. Trent Lott, whose home on the Mississippi Gulf Coast was destroyed by Katrina, recently raised the same complaint in his weekly newspaper column.

“Last Friday, I recalled the promise President Bush made to help Mississippi recover from Hurricane Katrina when he stood at the Mobile Airport just days after the storm,” Lott said. “‘Out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast,’ the president said, adding his administration would ‘make it go exactly right.’

“Well, as Mississippians who are dealing with this disaster’s aftermath know, the recovery is not going exactly right. Almost half the travel trailers required to house Katrina’s homeless and displaced have not been delivered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This week Mississippi experienced some of the coldest weather this year, with lows dipping into the 20s. I need not mention how that impacts people living in tents and carports.”

Three months after Katrina only about one-fourth of the debris has been removed. “And what’s more telling, unemployment in Harrison, Hancock and Jackson counties – areas with almost no unemployment before Katrina – now hovers around 25 percent, statistics not seen here since the Great Depression.”

My daughter, Schuyler, who lives in Wiggins, Miss., was a temporary employee with FEMA until recently. She interviewed people living in their cars or sleeping seven or eight in a room. Some were suicidal and some had waited five or six weeks to apply for help because “others needed it more than they did.”

One of the saddest sights: A family putting up Christmas lights around the tent in which they were living in their front yard.

As Lott said, Mississippians aren’t whiners. They haven’t been standing with their hands out, but have jumped in and begun trying to rebuild. But neither they nor residents of southwest Louisiana or east Texas can do this alone.

Lott urged Congress to pass pending relief bills before Christmas “so that President Bush can sign it and give weary Mississippians hope that in the New Year they will not be left behind.”

That would be a great “Christmas Eve Gift.”

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