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Anger rises among Mississippi’s poor after Katrina

August 31, 2005

By Paul Simao

BILOXI, Mississippi (Reuters) – For about a decade this
gambling town on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast has been the place to
be in the state if you were poor, down on your luck and looking
for work.

That changed on Monday when Hurricane Katrina came ashore,
leveling hundreds if not thousands of houses, stores and
commercial buildings and killing scores of residents.

The legalization of gambling in Biloxi created an economic
boom in the early 1990s and the city developed a reputation as
a place where a person could get a decent-paying job in the
casino or hospitality business.

But not everyone prospered. In the devastated streets and
atop the rubble piles where their homes stood before Katrina
blew through, a bitter refrain is increasingly heard. Poor and
low-income residents complain that they have borne the brunt of
the hurricane’s wrath.

“Many people didn’t have the financial means to get out,”
said Alan LeBreton, 41, an apartment superintendent who lived
on Biloxi’s seaside road, now in ruins. “That’s a crime and
people are angry about it.”

Many of the town’s well-off heeded authorities’ warnings to
flee north, joining thousands of others who traveled from the
Gulf Coast into northern Mississippi and Alabama, Georgia and
other nearby states.

Hotels along the interstates and other main roads were
packed with these temporary refugees. Gas stations and
convenience stores — at least those that were open — sold out
of water, ice and other supplies within hours.

But others could not afford to join them, either because
they didn’t own a car or couldn’t raise funds for even the
cheapest motel.

“No way we could do that,” said Willie Rhetta, a bus
driver, who remained in his home to await Katrina.

Resentment at being left behind in the path of one of the
fiercest hurricanes on record may have contributed to some of
the looting that occurred in Biloxi and other coastal
communities.

A number of private residences, including some in upscale
neighborhoods, were targeted, residents said.

Class divisions, which often fall along racial lines in
this once-segregated southern state, are not new to
Mississippi. It traditionally is one of the poorest states in
the United States.

In 2004, Mississippi had the second lowest median household
income and the highest percentage of people — 21.6 percent —
living in poverty, according to a report released this week by
the U.S. Census Bureau.




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