Hurricane Katrina Forest Recovery

As we work together to tackle the historic challenge that Hurricane Katrina has presented to the forestry communities of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, we hope that this blog will be a valuable resource and tool.

Tuesday, January 31

Dale Extends Insurance Bulletin

Commissioner of Insurance George Dale has extended his previous bulletin on an extension of coverage for property damaged by Hurricane Katrina to include commercial property insurance policies.

Bulletin #2005-13 was originally issued November 4, 2005. In the amended bulletin, no insurance company shall cancel or non-renew a personal or commercial property insurance policy covering a dwelling or property in Mississippi that has been damaged by Hurricane Katrina for a period of 60 days after the dwelling or residential property has been repaired.
"Due to material shortages, the demand placed on contractors and construction workers by Hurricane Katrina, many policyholders who have received claim payments are finding they are unable to repair their property right away. Furthermore, while thousands of insureds have resolved their claims, some insureds are still negotiating with their insurance company; therefore, they have not been able to even start repairs. These steps will help both residential and commercial policyholders from further harm by guaranteeing their new construction will be covered," Dale said.

For more information, visit, and choose the heading "Bulletins."

Thursday, January 19

Southland Unveils Post-Katrina Models

Southland Log Homes has introduced six new home designs created specifically for those who suffered irreparable damage to their residences in the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast region. Company offices in Baton Rouge, La., and Jackson are facilitating orders for locals needing to rebuild.

According to Southland, each new design is quick to construct because the package includes building materials now difficult to acquire in the affected area. "In the weeks following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Southland recognized that building materials would be extremely scarce, yet people would need to rebuild quickly with full confidence in the quality," said George M. Miller, president of Southland. "That's why we immediately put together a team to develop home packages that are affordably priced and include supplemental building supplies, like drywall and hardware, that normally do not come with a Southland design."
The six home designs -- the Bay Minette, the Biloxi, the Dauphin Island, the Lafayette, the Meraux and the Moss Point -- range in size from 1,335 to 2,217 square feet and cost $43,000 to $71,000.

Southland said inclusion of the supplemental materials not only makes the new designs an excellent value, it greatly simplifies the construction process in an area where labor and material costs have skyrocketed. In addition to the standard package materials included in every Southland home, these new designs will include drywall for inside walls and ceilings, interior doors, cabinets, shingles and hardware.

While a typical home can take months to years to construct, a Southland Log Home can usually be built in three-to-six weeks, often by the homeowners themselves. Southland guarantees a delivery date of home packages 60 days from the date of order. The company also provides its customers with an extensive list of qualified area builders and sub-contractors to either complete or assist with construction.

Tuesday, January 17

More Aid Needed Says Storm Aid Official

The government has not done enough to help large swaths of the Gulf Coast recover and rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, a key Republican senator said in a push for Congress to retain its focus on delivering aid in the new year.
Though lawmakers have approved $67 billion for Gulf Coast emergency relief and long-term recovery programs, and President Bush has called for an additional $1.5 billion to strengthen New Orleans levees, hard-hit areas in Mississippi and Louisiana need more federal resources, said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
"I don't think the government has done enough," said Collins, who is leading a delegation of senators today to Gulfport and St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana — two areas that she said have been overlooked compared to New Orleans. Both areas were nearly obliterated by high wind during the Aug. 29 storm.
The lawmakers also will tour parts of New Orleans, including inspecting progress on rebuilding levees that are crucial to encouraging residents and businesses back to the previously flooded city.
"This is a long-term commitment," Collins said Saturday. "The devastation is so widespread that a sustained federal commitment is going to be necessary. I think Congress realizes that, but there's also a growing concern about whether the money is well spent."
Democrats, too, are watching how Congress will pay for what they called continued necessary assistance to the Gulf Coast amid a rising deficit and other high-cost expenses, including the war in Iraq.
"This is really a catastrophe of enormous proportions, and I don't think we appropriated nearly enough to help," said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., after reviewing damage Friday in the New Orleans area. She is calling for Congress to repeal Bush's tax cuts to help pay for Katrina-related rebuilding.Last month, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, chastised Congress for failing to approve emergency funding, thus stalling state transportation, school and housing projects.
The state last week released a report calling for bold moves to improve its transportation and housing systems to a better level than before Katrina hit.In prepared testimony for a Senate hearing in Gulfport today, the Bush administration's Gulf Coast rebuilding czar outlined two top priorities for Mississippi: debris removal and temporary housing for evacuees.
So far, Mississippi has cleaned up 27 million cubic yards of debris — about two-thirds of the total, said Donald Powell, the federal Gulf Coast coordinator. He estimated that Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties in Mississippi were left with more debris after Katrina than totals after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the World Trade Center from the 2001 terror attacks combined.
Powell also estimated that fewer than 2,000 evacuated families remain in Mississippi hotels, and that 280,000 state residents have received transitional housing assistance."Every time some type of natural disaster has hit, the people of this region have come back, and come back stronger than before," Powell said in prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press. "Failure is not an option. ... It's too important a task not to do it right."

Collins, chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which is holding the hearing, said she planned to examine whether Powell has enough authority in his post to order changes for progress.Powell, the former chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and a wealthy Bush campaign contributor, serves as a liaison between state and local authorities in the region who are developing rebuilding plans, and Congress and Bush administration officials who will help fund them.

"He cannot direct what needs to be done," Collins said, adding that Powell has been working with a bare-bones staff. "He's very much a straight-shooter and is hard working, but I wonder if he has the troops that he needs."Collins also said senators would examine rebuilding progress on New Orleans levees — and the ongoing controversy over whether Congress should approve funds to make them strong enough to withstand a Category 5 hurricane.Some weather experts believe Katrina, a Category 4 hurricane when it hit the coast, had weakened to a Category 3 or 2 storm by the time it reached New Orleans. Bush and Powell have called for rebuilding the floodwalls to withstand a Category 3 storm.

"I clearly want the levees to be stronger, taller and tougher than they were before, but there's not a common definition what it means to build to a Category 5," Collins said.

Collins Workers with CSX Transportation replace railroad ties along the west- and east-bound tracks parallel to Edgewater Mall in Biloxi on Monday afternoon. The crews have hundreds of miles of maintenance to complete along the tracks north of U.S. 90.

Friday, January 13

Bush Talks About Rebuilding Mississippi

BAY ST. LOUIS, Mississippi (AP) -- President Bush traveled to a still-ravaged Gulf Coast Thursday after three months away, promising that a building boom is on its way and encouraging other Americans to visit, too.

Bush's visit to New Orleans and Mississippi was part of a series of events to showcase his priorities leading up to the State of the Union address. He said he was committed to rebuilding communities devastated from Hurricane Katrina.

"People in far away places like Washington, D.C., still hear you and care about you," Bush told survivors gathered at St. Stanislaus College, just a couple of blocks from where Katrina blew ashore.

Bush's route to the college took him down a coastal road past thousands of snapped trees, debris still hanging from limbs and lots emptied of their buildings. There were almost no intact structures -- in most cases only concrete foundations were left -- and little evidence of rebuilding.

"There's no homes to repair," Bush said. "It's just been flattened. That's what the people of America have got to understand."

Unlike in New Orleans, where most of the population has not returned, the road was lined with dozens of onlookers. Many held signs pleading for help and pledging their determination to rebuild their communities.

Bush recalled his vow from New Orleans' Jackson Square to return the region to its glory.
"I said we're not just going to cope, we're going to overcome," he said. "I meant what I said."

Full text of President Bush’s Speech

Thursday, January 12

Bush Flies to Waveland

Today, Bush flies to New Orleans and Waveland, Miss., to talk about Gulf Coast reconstruction (and then stars at an RNC dinner in Palm Beach, Fla., Thursday night). That brings the president to the Gulf just a day before a House Financial Services subcommittee arrives for field hearings on housing options in the aftermath of the hurricanes.

The hearings are to assess emergency housing responses by local, state and federal agencies as well as share ideas for moving forward with rebuilding. The first will be held Friday at 2 p.m. in the board room of the Port of New Orleans Administration Building in New Orleans, and the second is at 10 a.m. Saturday in the City Council Chambers in Gulfport, Miss.

Wednesday, January 11

Governor's Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal FINAL REPORT

The final report from the Governor's Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal of the Mississippi Gulf Coast was posted online this morning. The complete report is available for download by visiting the Governor's Commission Web site. What happened to Mississippi in the last days of August 2005 is unrivaled in our nation’s history. Hurricane Katrina, one of the largest and most violent storms ever recorded, cut a swath of destruction along the Gulf Coast from the Alabama border west to Texas. New Orleans flooded. Mississippi took the brunt of the winds and a storm surge that rose to more than 30 feet.

At least 230 people were left dead in our state. Sixty-five thousand homes were destroyed. Churches, schools, and historic landmarks were obliterated. The keys to Mississippi’s economic growth, the infrastructure of community and commerce, were so badly damaged it will take years and billions of dollars to put us back on track.

Recovery from such unprecedented calamity requires unprecedented commitment, and Governor Haley Barbour initiated the effort immediately. He asked me to chair the Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding, and Renewal with a mandate to explore the range of options before us and to recommend approaches that would not only restore what was lost but, in the governor’s words, make a Gulf Coast “better than ever.”

Tuesday, January 10

Researchers Figure Out How To Rebuild Stronger

While Katrina managed to take away and destroy most things in her path, one thing she left in abundance was damaged and downed trees.“Obviously, there is a real need for reconstruction at this time,” said Dr. Robert Lochhead, director of the School of Polymers and High Performance Materials at The University of Southern Mississippi. “The challenge is utilize the downed trees and all that wood to build the Coast back stronger than ever.”

That’s just one of the challenges facing researchers at the school. “Hurricane Katrina, like many other natural disasters, was a great leveler. Everyone is forced to pretty much roll up their sleeves and pitch in to help where they can,” said Lochhead. “In our department, we have our hands full. We’re still in the early stages of recovery, and we’re working hard on developing solutions. The difficult thing is that it’s hard to figure out where to start.”

One of the main concerns Lochhead has is where the scientific workforce all along the Coast might be. “Roughly 25 to 30 percent of all plastics used in the United States are made in that corridor. This is a field that requires training, and those were all well-trained, experienced people,” he said. Lochhead added that Southern Miss is working with the Council for Chemical Research, Lamar University and Louisiana State University to identify available facilities where displaced workers can resume their research.

Already, the ideas are flowing, and there’s no doubt that some very innovative materials and methods will eventually become the norm in the construction industry. “One thing to do is to look at places such as Bermuda. It’s an island, so people there have nowhere to go when a hurricane hits. The homes there have to be strong,” said Lochhead. “The building materials they use have been around for a long time. They use concrete blocks in which they run steel rods for reinforcement. Then they fill the entire thing up with cement to basically form a bunker. We should be looking at that old method of construction to see how we can adapt it to our situation here.” So, what to do with all that wood left behind by Katrina?

“The president of the university, Dr. Shelby Thames, has developed a new technique in which wood can be made into chipboard. Currently, the problem with pressed wood is that formaldehyde is used in making the product, and formaldehyde is a suspect carcinogen,” Lochhead said. He added that Thames is working on developing a way to treat the wood, press it and extrude it into forms, such as window and door frames. “That would be an ecologically sound way to use downed trees from the hurricane to create strong, affordable building materials,” he said. One of the main issues following the hurricane and the resulting tidal surges was the effect the water had on homes. According to Lochhead, “weeks after the storm, you can rip out the sheetrock in a home and the insulation is still soaking wet.” With current construction materials, if they become wet or covered in mud, it is necessary to rip the home apart in order to dry it out. Lochhead said the homes we build now are “hydrophilic,” or water loving. “We are working to develop building materials that are waterproof and mud proof so that the insulation won’t get wet. And we’re looking at ways to manufacture the materials so that they will be affordable so that we can build homes that are hydrophobic, or water-hating,” said Lochhead.

Another idea in development is the addition of antibiotic and antifungal agents into the building materials. “One of the hardest things to deal with after the water recedes is the mold and bacteria,” he said. “If there were agents in the building materials to kill the bacteria and mold spores, the problem would no longer exist.”

The problem of contaminants reaches beyond the walls of homes and buildings, and pollution is a major concern following a disaster. “We are working with the Corps of Engineers to design systems to quickly sample mud and water,” said Lochhead. “That is something that really needs to be done in the field. There just isn’t time to send samples away to a lab to be analyzed.” Lochhead said microbiologists at Southern Miss have developed a method to analyze the DNA of bacteria to determine if it is human or animal. “If certain pathogenic bacteria are found, people can be warned and told to stay away. That can greatly mitigate health hazards after a disaster,” he said.

Toxins such as gas, diesel and heavy metals can contaminate soil and water following a disaster. “We are developing materials and methods to remediate that problem with water soluble polymers and membrane systems used to remove toxins from the soil and water. In the past, those toxins would stay in the environment for decades. Now, we can have a clean environment soon after a disaster strikes.

One of our professors, Dr. Charles McCormick, has developed several polymers for that application,” said Lochhead.Developing new products to be used in the hurricane recovery efforts is just the beginning, according to Lochhead. “As soon as the technologies are developed, workforce training must occur so that the innovations can be implemented into the marketplace,” he said. Lochhead added that the Southern Miss Department of Economic and Workforce Development is an essential part of the process.

Dr. Cyndi Gaudet is the director of the Jack and Patti Phillips Workplace Learning and Performance Institute (WLPI), located on the Southern Miss campuses in Hattiesburg and on the Gulf Coast. Gaudet's professional efforts include developing and maintaining a competent workforce, determining the most appropriate academic preparation for training professionals (pre-service and in-service) and the impact of technology on learning and performance in the workplace.

The WLPI is recognized for developing innovative programs and tools that link performance requirements to industry needs. The Southern Miss WLPI will play a key role in helping organizations rebuild and retool their post-Katrina workforce. “By partnering with state, local and federal stakeholders, the WLPI will work with individual organizations to integrate twenty-first century workforce models for the hurricane-impacted areas,” said Gaudet. “The WLPI offers certificate, master's and Ph.D. programs that provide the leadership needed to develop the human capital required for Coast rebuilding and renewal.”

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