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Hurricane Katrina Survivors Speak Out and Fight Back

Elizabeth G. Hines: "I used to think a four letter word that started with "F" was something other than FEMA," one woman says. "But not since Katrina."
 
 
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This post, written by Elizabeth G. Hines, originally appeared on The Huffington Post

In anticipation of the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, last week the Ms. Foundation for Women convened a small group of community based activists in Gulfport, MS, to train them in the art of radio documentary. The goal? To give these activists, and their communities, the tools they need to bring their stories of the storm and its aftermath back to a place of prominence on the national media landscape.

Led by the experts from People's Production House, the trainings resulted in the production of five, four to six minute radio documentaries, which will air on Pacifica stations in the coming weeks. This series of posts is my own effort, in the interim, to offer an inside look at the real lives of the people of the Gulf, two long years after the storm.

"Come to me and I will give you rest."

That's a quote from the Book of Matthew -- and one that's emblazoned on the set of sturdy blue teacups perched on the kitchen table of Vicky Cintra's boxy FEMA trailer. Vicky works for MIRA (Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance) and we're here in her home to talk about the housing situation in Gulfport, Mississippi post-Katrina, and how low-income residents have been all but erased from the picture of "recovery" that the local government is painting.

On our way into Vicky's trailer, my companion Anchanese Levison -- a staffer at the Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights who will be interviewing Vicky for radio as part of a media justice initiative sponsored by the Ms. Foundation for Women -- points out that on either side of the mobile home park where Vicky lives, there is construction: on one side, they are building high-end condos; on the other, a new parking lot for the airport, only a stone's throw away. The land left in the middle, where Vicky's trailer and a few dozen like it (many of them FEMA-owned) sit, is all that's left of the wetlands that used to play a vital role in the ecology of this particular area. As a result, flooding in the trailer park is a constant threat. "It rains just a little bit one day and we have huge puddles for a week," Vicky herself offered up later on. "The water has no place to go."

But water and its ravages are something Vicky has had to get used to since Hurricane Katrina hit. The storm itself flooded her former home with eight feet of water; after evacuating to Miami, Vicky moved back to the region in the fall of 2005 to begin work with MIRA, and in December of that year took up occupancy, along with her husband, in the trailer in which we're now all sitting.

And in some ways, that is when the real trouble began. "After the first rainstorm in December of 2005, there was more water inside the trailer than outside, "Vicky says. "Water was just pouring in kitchen window. The whole trailer was totally flooded. Then the black mold developed."

That was more than 18 months ago. Despite the fact that Vicky has called FEMA religiously over the course of the intervening period, it was just weeks ago that they finally showed up to "fix" the leak in the kitchen window that caused all the damage. And while we sit and talk, we get the chance to witness firsthand the quality of FEMA's work: as clouds burst overhead, a slow but steady trickle of water begins to seep through the window casing, gradually flooding Vicky's countertop with rainwater.

"I used to think a four letter word that started with "F" was something other than FEMA," Vicky says. "But not since Katrina."

Elizabeth G. Hines is the co-author of the best-selling biography, Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire. She blogs at Biting Giants .

 
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