BILOXI, Miss. -- Forrest County is nearly recovered from the winds and flooding of Hurricane Katrina, but the storm remains on the minds of residents and county officials.
That's a good thing said county Board of Supervisors President Charles Marshall as he recently discussed lessons learned from Katrina and resulting improvements.
"Forrest County Hospital generators weren't large enough to cope with the storm," Marshall said. "Water pressure there was also a problem."
Bigger, better generators, paid for, in part, by the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have replaced the vintage pre-Katrina models. The hospital, a major employer in the county, also had good insurance.
"We had a hazard mitigation plan in place before Katrina but now we have a new, improved one," Marshall said as he displayed the latest Hazard Emergency Preparedness Plan for Forrest County, Hattiesburg and Petal. The pamphlet is the result of a collaborative effort of the nearby University of Southern Mississippi and Forrest County.
"We bounced back pretty good from Katrina," Marshall said. He attributes that to the cooperation between the private and public sectors. "We worked well together."
The federal government pitched in about $7.7 million to clear debris. Another $2.6 million paid for emergency protective measures such as clearing streets right after the storm.
"Recovery in this county, like others in Mississippi, is also the result of teamwork between state and federal governments," said MEMA Director Mike Womack.
MEMA and FEMA paid nearly $1.8 million to help pay for repairs to roads and bridges and about $2.8 million for repairs to public buildings, including the chancery courthouse. The two agencies also paid $1.5 million to improve a Hattiesburg fire station on Main Street and $149,000 to repair the county library.
Retail is strong in this home of the University of Southern Mississippi and William Carey University. Builders have kept up with the demand for student and, to some extent, work force housing. Population has increased by nearly 6 percent since the storm, expanding the tax base. The unemployment rate here is 7.2 percent, lower than the state and national average.
Marshall wants Forrest to continue growing and improving through the next storm or disaster. That's why the county mailed the Hazard Emergency Preparedness Plan to everyone they have an address for.
"We want this pamphlet to improve communication about where to go to stay safe, how to get there and what to have on hand to be self sustaining," Marshall said.
Marshall incorporated the plan into his personal one - the one that includes eliminating trees that could block his way out of his home the next time a hurricane strikes.
FEMA leads and supports the nation in a risk-based, comprehensive emergency management system of preparedness, protection, response, recovery, and mitigation, to reduce the loss of life and property and protect the nation from all hazards including natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters.