Thursday, September 22, 2005

Want to work on the coast? No problem!

Want to work on the coast? No problem!

It seems like even the small number of businesses that are open
cannot find enough people to do the work they have ...

Drive past any open business, be it MacDonald's, a pharmacy, a gas station or a pawn shop and you can almost guarantee you'll see a sign that says something like "Open and hiring".

The local newspaper is full of adverts for welders, truck drivers, temporary office workers, cleaners ... and professional jobs too - need a nursing job? Want to be a salesman? An insurance adjuster? Companies are offering free on-the-job training for truck drivers!

Local job agencies have signs outside saying they have upwards of 300 jobs to fill. Local radio claims the local unemployment service is inundated with jobs.

In short - if you want to work, there is work there to be had. All you need to do is go get it. Right now it probably helps if you don't mind getting your hands dirty too ...

Things are still a long way from normal

Things are still a long way from normal

Some times it seems like repairs have come a long way - but they have so far to go.
Even now it is hard to grasp the full scale of Katrina's destruction!

Amy and I have been maintaining a semblance of normality over the last couple of weeks, but this morning I was struck by how far from normality we really are. Here's what was going through my mind.

Firstly, we normally go to a local gym each weekday morning before we start work. Our gym lost its roof and suffered considerable damage from Katrina, so right now it is closed so they can rebuild. We have to travel an extra 15 miles or so to go to a different gym - a gym that we found quite by accident when we were unable to go to a second gym that is normally our backup!

Secondly, as we travel along Pass Road through Gulfport and Biloxi, I am struck buy the fact that fewer than 10% of retail outlets and businesses appear to be open. Can you even begin to comprehend what that is doing to the local economy? Thousand and thousands of people are missing, scattered about the USA now that their homes are destroyed or unfit to live in. But hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses have been equally badly affected. The local newspaper, the Sun Herald, published an article today that said, among other things,"Of the 171,000 dwellings in the area, more than 65,100 homes, or 38 percent, are destroyed and an additional 38,000 sustained major damage". 65,100 homes destroyed!

Thirdly, with all those businesses closed, there are few restaurants open (most with very restricted menus), only one movie theatre within about a 50 mile radius, few grocery stores, only a small number of banks, roughly 30% of gas stations ... etc, etc. In other words most of the places where people normally go for neccesities, luxuries and entertainment are all gone. Even those people who were lucky enough to be barely touched by Katrina are now being starved not only of their luxuries, but many of their necessities.

Why was I so struck by all of this? Monday will be 4 weeks since Katrina hit. Almost a month. In nearly 4 weeks the teams of people repairing services to our homes and businesses have done unbelievable work, returning electricity, phone, water and sewerage services to almost everyone who can receive such services. But no amount of wonderful work by those people can possibly speed up the repairs to homes and businesses, or replace those that were completely washed away. It really is going to take years to make repairs on that scale.

Rain hits the Mississipi coast

Rain hits the Mississipi coast

This is really the first rain since Katrina was here!

Over three weeks since Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, we finally got rain today. This might have been good news but for a series of less-happy facts:-

  • The rain is the northern-most tip of Rita, so this is the harbinger of much worse weather that will hit land to the west and north of us.

  • Much of the coastal flooding has still not completely receded.

  • New Orleans is absolutely not ready to take another storm - it won't take much to create fresh flooding and to burst the levvies again.

  • The rest of the coast is not ready for another storm either. Most of the storm damage has not yet been made secure. Many, many buildings still have no kind of roof or even a tarpaulin to protect them from further damage.

  • What debris there is that has been gathered together is mostly piled at the side of the road waiting for the local goverment or FEMA to collect it and take it away for disposal - it's going to take little more than a whiff of wind and a few drops of rain to start spreading that debris all over the place.

  • If we get anything more than about 10 mph winds, a lot of that debris will be flying around causing new damage.

  • Fresh rain will encourage fresh mosquitos - they have not yet been as bad as some had predicted.

On the plus side - there has to be a plus side, right?

  • The fact that a lot of the debris has not been cleared away means that most of the coast is smelling bad right now. I reckon at least some of that smell will be eased as the rain washes a lot of the cause of that away. Although making it wet will most likely make it worse than ever in another day or two :-(

  • There has been a burn-ban across the 6 southern counties of Mississippi, and no dound in Alabama and Louisiana too - making it impossible for people to dispose of their own debris. This may well be lifted. OK I know it's a bad idea to encourage people to burn all their storm debris, but for many in outlying areas it will be the only way to clean up.

  • Nature needs a drink. I have mentioned a couple of times how pleased I have been to see trees regrowing their leaves. I am sure a day or two of rain will help to fuel that regrowth. It will be nice to see the trees with their clothes back on, providing us with a less-bleak view of the world, and of course some shade form the relentless sun.

Mobile information about Hurricane Rita

Mobile information about Hurricane Rita

As I write, it looks like Hurrricane Rita is going to hit Huston

My heart goes out to all of those who were affected so terribly by Katrina, only to have another hurricane chase them out of their place of refuge. Thousands of people are having to flee from Huston and other parts of Texas as the storm seems to be chasing many of the people who were most severely hurt by Katrina.

This morning I found this page of links to mobile friendly web pages giving information about Rita. If you are on the move and have access to the internat via cell phone or PDAphone these links may be useful for you. You should find they work fine for PC and Laptop computers too, but they may look odd as they have been optimised for the small screens of PDAs.

The page had been put together by Bev Howard. The idea is to encourage officials to make this sort of information available. Here's what Bev says about it:-

I'm winging this one, so page is being constantly updated... for the better hopefully... check back

Suggestions and feedback will be appreciated.

PLEASE! If you think this minimalist approach is a good idea, pass the link along to as many other mobile users as possible and as many people along the texas/la coast asap who have the need, both mobile and non mobile.

I have a local counter to support the need, so, the more visits during this event, the more likely NHC will pay attention. The counter only updates if you "reload" on the ppc so it should reflect mobile hit's accurately although many browsers are set to reload every time.

If you want Noaa and NHC to provide mobile friendly sites and to let them know their current "text page" sucks, let them know at

Beverly Howard [MS MVP-Mobile Devices]

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Nature's recovery continues

Nature's recovery continues

I have been fascinated by all the new growth I see everywhere

One of the most shocking things for me when I returned home to Saucier - after seeing all the trees down everywhere - was the fact that almost every leaf was blown off of every tree. I posted a picture oa few days ago showing one of our surviving Pecans sprouting new leaves. Today I snpped a second picture showing the change in only a few days.

Since noticing this new growth, I have been looking out for it elsewhere. I see lovely bright green leaves sprouting everywhere At this rate we will have lots of trees with normal-looking compliments of leaves in another two or three weeks. For many that will be just in time for Autumn - oops, Fall :-) - but for the live oaks the plumage should be here to stay.

The single sad thing about this is the number of trees I have seen that are lying on their sides, doomed to be cut up and burned over the next few months, but still valiantly putting out new growth. My wife spoke to a tree expert about this earlier in the week. He said that the trees will, unfortunately, grow themselves to death. They will quickly outgrow the ruined roots that remain in action and essentially starve to death :-(

County assistance with clean-up?

We discovered this week that we should be able to get official assistance with the cleanup. Most people here in Saucier are not wealthy, but 5 acres of land is pretty normal for a typical household, and even the most meagre plot is an acre. Many older families have several tens of acres.

Everyone has lost many trees, but if we individually call lumber companies individually to get trees taken away, they will not be interested in clearing a couple of trees from a two-acre plot, or even 5 or 6 trees from a 5 acre plot, or if they are interested the cost would be prohibitive.

My wife Amy spoke with the local chairman of the marchants association and they have plans to gather together a town meeting to see if we can go forward and find a contractor or group of contractors who can help the entire town of Saucier clear away the worst of the trees.

As a possible added bonus, maybe they can help us get this tree of the little trailer we have on our property. Then we can quickly make it available to one of the poor families who are now homeless!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I forgot one bonus from Katrina

I forgot one bonus from Katrina


Scores and scores of billboards were destroyed by hurricane Katrina. It's been great not having these huge, ugly, garishly-coloured, grammatically aful advertisements!

Sadly, yesterday I noticed several of the casino-owned billboards north of I-10 on highway 49 have begun to sprout new adverts. I couldn't tell you what they say becuase I treat them the same way I do adverts on web sites - I ignore them!

I also noticed yesterday that at least one of the huge iron and scteel billboard frames that was knocked down was being replaced in Gulfport.

I sincerely hope these things are banned as part of the suggested swathe of new zoning abnd building codes. They are ugly and they destroy what could be beautiful views all over the country. At the very least they should be banned in places like Gulfport and Biloxi.

Besides - I am sure that a significant percentage of the building damage that occured as Katrina scoured her way through the coastal towns and northwards was caused by debris torn from the billboards! I saw several buildings badly damaged by huge billboard columns that had fallen onto them...

Desktop replacement

Mobile computing? Detatchable screen!

This is the ultimate desktop replacement!

I was surfing around trying to get back to normal when I spotted this and my gadgetosis nerve started itching!!!

I have wanted something like this for a long time. So has my wife, Amy, apparently :-)

More on 'Flood' Insurance

More on 'Flood' Insurance

"'Flood damage' issue must be national policy" says Hugo Newcomb Jr. in the Clarion Ledger

The article below speaks about the need for a national solution and policy" to make sure that insurance covers people properly in the event of a hurricane.

In short - people were told they did not need flood insurance becuase they did not live in a flood plain. Yet when their houses were swept away by Katrina's storm surge the insurance comanies have refused to pay up, because they had no flood insurance! It gets better - they could not even have boought flood insurance even if they wanted it!

Read on for a more reasoned and eloquent argument as to why the insurance industry needs its collective arse kicked.

Not another one!

Not another one!

Let's hope Rita stays away.

Not-so-lovely Rita (OK I couldn't resist the Beatles reference is heading into the Gulf of Mexico as I type. Florida Keys is taking a battering, but the forecast seems to be that Rita is coming into the Gulf and move on to Texas.

Fingers crossed no significant harm reaches anyone anywhere!

What worries me is that recent history shows the storms taking a slightly more Eastern path than the path predictions have indicated. At the moment Western Louisiana is at the extreme east of the projected path, but if this storm gets to be at all large it is going to affect areas further East than that. Also, if it does take a more Eastern path, then New Orleans could, at the very least, get more flooding. I think the Mayor of New Orleans has said that if they get more than 3 feeet of storm surge the levies will burst again!

Anyway - I am not a praying man but my fingers are crossed that the storm does not come ashore anywhere near the places already devastated by Katrina. Better yet, let it be a damp squip that fizzles out before it gets near any shoreline.


Sunday, September 18, 2005

Some more ramblings

Some more ramblings

How are things going on the coast?

I was asked on a local discussion forum to elaborate on some of the things I posted here ... I replied there, but I have decided to post the same stuff here.

"When you mention the "negative press" can you provide more info on the subject? On what news? On what subjects?"

Hmmm - where do you want me to start? What little tv we had seen by that time was spending most of the time trying to point the finger of blame at whoever was responsible for the slow response to the storm. At that point the same was true of the radio coverage we were hearing and the newspapers we saw - at least until a day or so before I posted the message you read. From then on the local radio and newspaper coverage became noticably more positive about the current situation and the outlook for the future.

New Orleans has since taken most of the national coverage. At the time NO news was about evenly split between finger-pointing and terrible stories of the flood and the criminal activity, from looting to shooting at aid convoys and helicoptors to little children being raped and murdered. These were mentioned everywhere - CNN on the web and on the tv, public radio, newspapers.

Since then the national coverage I have seen has concentrated almost wholly on New Orleans, as the Mayor tries desperately to blame everyone but himself (it seems) for mistakes made, and poor preparation.

Meantime in Mississippi the local radio stations, local tv and local newspapers (do you get the emphasis on LOCAL? ) have almost completely stopped pointing the finger at anyone for any mistakes or lack of preparation.

Here's the score so far as I understand it (and I think most people here see the same thing) -

The storm was terrible - bigger and more devastating than anyone imagined possible. Aid was totally unable to get through to the Mississippi coast for at least 2 days because the main arterial road (hightway 49) to bring that aid was blocked by thousands of fallen trees. Much of the aid was held up at Camp Shelby (maybe 10 miles south of Hattisburg, about 60 miles north of the coast) while a route was cut through the debris.

Once the roads were cleared, aid came through thick and fast. when I drove back down to the coast from Jackson on the Friday (or Saturday) after the storm it was evident that 49 had essentially been impassable from Jackson onwards ... thats 150 miles of 4-way highway blocked in both directions!! As I drove down that road I was stunned not only by the devastation that steadily worsened the further south I drove, but at the scale of the work that had to be done to clear it.

When I got to Gulfport that day there were traffic jams caused by the volume of aid traffic flooding into the city. I have no doubt that the same was true along the rest of the coast. Sadly many smaller communities remained inaccessible for a long time after then, but any lack of aid to them is likely to have been caused by logistical problems - blocked and or destroyed roads and bridges - rather than any lack of willing or ability to send aid to them.

All through this, the contrast between Governor Haley Barbour and the mayor of New Orleans has been striking. G. Barbour has maintained a "let's fix it and be better for it" attitude, with huge volumes of thanks to the (quite incredible!) work of the electric repair crews and aid helpers and volunteers, while it appears that the mayor of NO has concentrated of whining, finger pointing and demanding assistance. These attitudes have clearly affected the populations each man has responsability to, and the media coverage devoted to them.

As I said in my blog, the general attitude down here on the coast is very positive, in spite of the fact that whole cities have been washed away - and I am sure that the leadership of G Barbour and others has helped to maintain that posiive attitude.

Sure they are not cities the size of New Orleans, but if you have not seen the pictures, the sight of streets of houses scoured clean leaving only empty slabs and mountains of debris is heart-rending!

Check out this image of Bay St Louis

Here's where you can see more pictures of the devastation all along the coast:-


"Please give more information on your personal opinion. Here in Florida where we were almot hit by infamous Katrina, Fidelity who holds most Flood Ins. does not want to pay either. I don't know why we need flood insurance in a floor area if they won't pay when it gets flooded? It sounds like a riddle, right?"

Hmm - my earlier information seems to have been contradicted. Public radio announcements suggested early on that the insurance companies were instructed to play fair, but the Attorney General of Mississippi took 5 insurance companies to court this week to get them to quit trying to wriggle out of their responsabilitis by saying their insured customers had no flood insurance. He says there is no specific exclusion for Storm Surge so they have to pay up. I look forward to seeing the outcome of that.

Some people had specific Hurricane insurance, so they expected to be insured for hurricanes ... yet the insurance companies are saying they lost their homes or were damaged by flood. How was that flood caused? Wind-driven storm surge, not a river bursting its banks, or a flash flood or a burst water main!