What is this?

Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

Map of Southeaster United States

This project is evolving. Our daily dispatches coverage has been retired. Click here to see what happened in the area between mid October and January 1, 2006.

Background on the towns and this project is available under the about tab above.

Click here for bios of the reporters and media producers who have worked on the series.

How you can help


Get the latest stories, journal entries and images via RSS subscription.

Like everyone, we enjoy getting mail, especially now. Holiday cards and mail-order catalogs signal that Christmas will soon be here, and even in our present condition that remains a very good thing.

Imagine our surprise when we opened a letter from FEMA on Thursday that stated:


Hurricane Katrina's impact on Maria Russell's home is shown in an image taken before (left) and after the devastating storm.

“The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the State of Mississippi have reviewed your request for disaster assistance. Listed below is our decision regarding your request. This initial determination will not preclude you from receiving future assistance.

Determination: IID- Ineligible – Insufficient Damage

Total Grant Amount: $0.00."

Ineligible because of insufficient damage? Insufficient damage? Let me get this right: Our house was completely wiped out and we have insufficient damage?

Well, one thing is for sure: This hurricane has provided an infinite amount of log fodder. And this particular subject has both incensed and inspired me.

The attitude of always giving others the benefit of the doubt was instilled in me at a very young age, and so I forced myself to continue reading the information that followed:

“Please refer to “HELP AFTER A DISASTER,” the FEMA Applicant’s Guide, which was mailed to you after you applied for assistance. The section entitled “If You Are/Are Not Eligible for Help” (pages 6-9) explains the reasons which support our decision.”

So I did. I learned that “there was not enough damage to your home or property for you to qualify for this program.”


This is incomprehensible! It is inconceivable that our loss was viewed that way. We needed more information.

Dave telephoned FEMA Friday morning and was told that our inspector, who had been sent to investigate our claim, had made an error and that we would have to initiate the entire process all over again. The rep on the other end of the line seemed indifferent to our situation. Suffice it to say that the level of our frustration has definitely surpassed being more than just a minor inconvenience. It has been more than three months since Katrina; is there really this much ineptness at the government level?

Indefatigable, Dave searched for the phone number of our inspector and called him. He said that, no, he had filled out the paperwork correctly, but that for some reason the intake computer was inadvertently processing everyone’s form incorrectly. Is this incredible, or what? Obviously, this is not an isolated incident. How many people are being, for lack of a better word, screwed?

If we had an exorbitant income or had submitted an incomplete application or had been inconsistent in our record-keeping, we might chalk this experience up to being something that tests our integrity. But what we are asking for is not inappropriate.

We hope that someone can give us some insight as to why we are incapable of collecting disaster assistance. We have no home, and yet we instinctively feel obligated to pay the mortgage each month. We are honest people with the incentive to play by the rules. Is there anyone out there who can justify the incompetence? Obviously I was inclined to have some fun while writing this, but the question remains.

Hopefully I will be able to include the answer in my next Citizen’s Diary post.

MAIN PAGE NEXT POST Vacation destination?

Email this EMAIL THIS


Passing the buck? Yes and no. Yes, FEMA is passing the buck to its inspector and the inspector back to the computer. No, FEMA is not giving you your due financial compensation. This incompetence can be traced directly through Michael Brown and onto to President Bush.

If that is not damage I dont know what is

Unbelievable, talk about passing the buck. Maybe future FEMA employees MUST live for a week in their client's shoes, since a house might not be available.

US Government at its best. Just can't trust em to do anything right.

Just add this to the list of ineptness that this administration seems to be so good at.

I wish I could say I was surprised by this, but I'm not. Immediately after 9/11, I submitted an application for some assistance since the company I was temping at was located in the World Financial Center (next to the WTC). However, since the company had temporarily relocated to the midtown area after the disaster, I got a response saying that I was "outside the affected disaster area" and therefore inelligible for assistance. Luckily, I was able to show proof that I was there, via my ATM receipt from 7:48am September 11 from 1 World Trade Center. I certainly wasn't asking for much, especially since I didn't lose my home or my life, and I didn't pursue any further assistance - other people needed it more than I did. The incompetence certainly is staggering though.

Is this another case of the state and Federal republican administrations have aboused their porwer against Democrats? Sure makes one wonder wether there are still professionals in government or just political hacks.

Is this another case of the state and Federal republican administrations have aboused their porwer against Democrats? Sure makes one wonder whether there are still professionals in government or just political hacks.

Just one more reason I ask if we want the Federal Government to do more for you or anyone else. Can you imagine if the Feds every get to run health care. As screwed up as that is, Washington running it realy scares me.

Maybe they throught since it wasn't there, they couldn't inspect it? Another loophole to use to extend the time frame for assistance? Why is this so hard for our government? Passing the buck, making up excuses, ignorance....it's time to get with the program!

Typical government agency incompetence-Isn't there anyone at FEMA with common sense-or even listening to the people they are supposed to assist? Very sad. There has to be an answer to this. Oh yes, I know what it is - they should be fired but that's also impossible these days, too. Unbelievable.

Isn't there some news agency out there who is interested in knowing/letting the public know who IS receiving assistance from FEMA. Perhaps it would be helpful if FEMA was made to be more publicly accountable (how many claims are pending, how many have been processed, how many claimants received assistance and how much) on a weekly basis. Then might see if there is any progress and, perhaps, be able to discover why some claims are handled faster/better than others.

Our nightmaare began the week after the hurricane when we had to meet the FEMA inspector at our home that was on the beach in Biloxi, MS.. We spent $1500.00 which we didn't really have to go there(we're staying with relatives in MD. and DE.), and were told they couldn't help because we had nothing to rebuild from. We were referred to SBA who turned us down cold because we have no assets, so with no insurance and a big mortgage we're $150,000.00 in the hole and are forced to pay for something that isn't there. So I can really feel your pain and disbelief.

It's really sad to think about all the damage Bush can still do in the 3yrs. he has left. How many more stories like this? Iraq? Katrina? They tried to impeach Clinton for alot less. What's it gonna take?
My thoughts and prayers go out to you.

I got a check for $214 to repair $76,000 in uninsured losses to my house from FEMA.

I am sorry to see this kind and level of governmental abuse, however we voted for an inept president and he selected inept people to serve in his administration, so this is what we get.

This has nothing to do with Brown or Bush. It is one person dealing with another person who is probably over burdened, or maybe just does not want to do their job. We have all run into people at work that just want to do the bare minimum. My grandson and his wife received outstanding service from both FEMA and their insurance company.

I am so sorry for your loss and the compounding of it by the complete lack of ability to do anything about it by our useless government.
Hopefully next time we have the opportunity to "elect" a president, people will vote based on infrastructure, sustaining and aiding the poor etc, the ability of a candidate to lead and appoint leaders etc.

your problem is that you are dealing with an administration(yes, bush also) who really dont give a rat's a** about you.are u big business, are you in oil ? probably not and that's also your problem.

Wow. Blame the President. Everyone with a brain knows its the STATE government's job to ASK FOR FEDERAL ASSISTANCE. The Federal Government cannot simply step in and take over the state's responsibilities without permission. Get a clue, Robert.

It just goes to show that they, the american govnt, is just as good as they say they arnt.
Brent Wright
It just goes to show!!!!

I'm a mainframe contract programmer, working for a Fed. Govt. agency. No, not FEMA. I would guess that FEMA wanted their computer system up and running quickly, without adequate testing. Frequently happens. Not at all unusual. Unfortunately. It would be nice if Congress would hold hearings regarding this. Hold someone's feet to the fire. But, don't expect this kind of stupidity to ever end.

I wish I could say I am surprised, this is normal for this administration and the president talks about the economy (Look I am Doing Good) speech this administration and the president need to be impeached.

I don't think this is not a republican vs. democrat issue, or an issue relating to cronyism in this administration. Government organizations at all levels suffer from having no competition, no outside force that keeps them sharp. Whether it's FEMA or your local Department of Motor Vechicles, the people and processes are often inept because of the simple fact they don't have to be good. Where else are you going to go?

I am sympathetic with Ms. Russell's plight and wish I knew the answer. What I do know is that this is the result of the fundamental difference between goverment and business. Goverment cannot act unless a law tells it to. Business can act unless the law says it can't. Hence, employees with inititive gravitate to business instead of goverment. It's not a Republican or Democratic problem.

Comments for this post have been closed.


Trackbacks are links to weblogs that reference this post. Like comments, trackbacks do no appear until approved by us. The trackback URL for this post is: http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451b0aa69e200d83459b8b169e2

Federal Emergency Muckup Agency Federal Emergency Muckup Agency Katrina is fading away in the minds of most of us, but many of those affected aren't seeing much relief. Here's a lady named Maria Russell who's been blogging about it on MSNBC: That's a picture...

Posted on Dec 6, 2005 7:12:06 AM at: Advice Goddess Blog

More Rising from Ruin

Story tips?