State and city officials reflect on lessons learned 17 years after Hurricane Katrina

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) – Monday was a beautiful sunny day in the Pine Belt, but it wasn’t that day 17 years ago.

Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Mississippi Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, leaving massive amounts of destruction in its path.

Billions of dollars came from the federal government to help. However, according to State Sen. Joey Fillingane (R-District 41), who was a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives at the time, those dollars were slow to show up.

“That kind of fund doesn’t happen within 24 hours,” Fillingane said. “I mean, those things that need to be put away and you can access immediately.”

Because the need was immediate, the state legislature passed laws allowing for faster recovery efforts for certain public entities.

“University buildings and community college buildings were so damaged that we passed enabling legislation allowing these institutions to borrow money so they can then repay that money with federal funds and insurance proceeds,” Fillingane said.

These types of natural disasters significantly influenced how funds were allocated after Katrina.

“The rainy day fund that we keep now, and that we kept full for a while, is exactly for this kind of event,” Fillingane said. “When you need it, you need it, and certainly those are the funds we immediately turned to — state funds and several hundred million dollars that we were able to immediately send to MEMA.”

Municipal governments also learned from the catastrophic storm.

“When it comes to infrastructure, you have to consider that as well,” said Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker. “You’re not always going to get a lot of federal and state money. You really have to prepare yourself and do what you can on your own to try to make sure that you are financially resilient enough to deal with these situations. ”

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