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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.

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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.

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BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. -- The storm that left this region drowning in debt and need also inundated it with some infamous examples of government spending.

From oak-lined Waveland Avenue to the quaint cottages of St. Charles Street in Bay St. Louis, the Katrina-wrought equivalents of the proverbial $600 toilet seat, courtesy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, are everywhere to be seen. Behold:

--Rooftop after rooftop covered with blue plastic sheeting at an average cost to taxpayers somewhere north of $2,500 a pop.

--Dozens of temporary classrooms provided for nearly $90,000 apiece by an out-of-state contractor in a deal that a Mississippi firm says it offered to match for just over half that price. Tack on tens of thousands of dollars more in additional costs for each unit.

--Thousands of shiny new travel trailers provided at an average cost of nearly $14,000, but often requiring thousands of more dollars each in site preparation and being delivered through programs castigated repeatedly by lawmakers as inefficient and wasteful.

-- And unseen, to the east, floats the most infamous example of all, a cruise ship whose occupants at latest count included 23 Hancock County families, housed in a deal where the tab is currently running as high as $1,000 a day for a family of four.

In a Spartan office atop Bay St. Louis’ makeshift City Hall, Mayor Eddie Favre can only roll his eyes at how some of Uncle Sam’s money has been spent while his town desperately pleads for state and federal help to meet an operating budget left staggeringly short of revenue after the Aug. 29 hurricane.

“The cost of it is unbelievable,” Favre says of the trailers, tarps and cruise ships. “The alternative to that, I don’t know, but that’s quite a bit of money.”

A number of lawmakers and watchdog groups have called for probes of some of the FEMA spending. Final cost won’t be known for a while, but information from FEMA itself and other sources reveal some of the particulars.

No blues over this paycheck
The tarps covering Hancock County homes are part of FEMA’s Operation Blue Roof, 99 percent complete in Mississippi, according to a recent release from the agency, with 48,000 of the temporary roofs installed. Nationwide, according to news accounts, the government paid contractors $2,500 on average for the labor to cover each roof, often no more than a 90-minute job, generally 10 times or more what a homeowner would be charged by a private contractor. The government provided the plastic sheeting and the FEMA contractors were allowed to charge the government millions of dollars more for administrative fees and additional materials.

A textbook case of big profits?
The 60-plus temporary classrooms came to Waveland and Bay St. Louis schools as part of a controversial no-bid FEMA contract for hundreds of such buildings throughout Mississippi. The federal government paid an Alaskan firm $40 million, or nearly $90,000 per unit, to provide what are essentially commercial-grade double-wide mobile homes in a deal that is now the subject of a lawsuit and government probes.

Critics charge that the Alaskan firm’s political connections are what really won it the contract at the expense of a Mississippi company, Adams Hardware and Home Center, which offered to provide the same buildings for $24 million, or about $53,000 each.

“The amount of dollars that was charged by that Alaska corporation was outrageous,” Adams Hardware owner Kent Adams told MSNBC.com. Adams said his Yazoo City firm is now suing the contract winner for unfair business practices.

The cost of the classrooms doesn’t end with the contract to supply and deliver them. FEMA says site preparation and utility hookups push the price to $117,000 for each trailer.

051221_dollars_02

A North Bay Elementary School student runs among portable classrooms paid for by FEMA.

Housing with a costly hitch
It's not yet possible to say what the final bill will be for FEMA’s travel trailer program. Nearly 30,000 trailers have been placed in Mississippi, about 8,000 of those in Hancock County. While FEMA has said it’s spending about $14,000 per trailer, and many are placed on individual private lots, some news media accounts have detailed cases where the cost to prepare large park sites has approached $40,000 per trailer. And an angry Bay St. Louis Rep. Gene Taylor recently brought to light a single trailer “bone yard” where hundreds of unused trailers were awaiting repairs or being scavenged for spare parts.

Those factors -– and what it will ultimately cost to dismantle the temporary parks, repossess the trailers and dispose of them -– will add significantly to the bottom line for the program.

No carnival for taxpayers
But it’s unlikely to compare with the crown jewel of Katrina spending: a contract with Carnival Cruise Lines to provide housing aboard three cruise ships at a cost of up to $236 million. Figures provided to MSNBC.com on Wednesday peg the current per-person cost for the lodging at $244 a day. At that rate, it would cost more than $175,000 for a family of four to stay on one of the ships for the full six months of the contract, far above the price of the average home in the area.

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161 COMMENTS

hmmmm - we took Lowe's and Home Depot tarps to friends with homes damaged by Hurricane Rita and helped get the tarps in place - all for less than $100/tarp

on Saturday afternoon, we asked FEMA for tarps for other houses in the neighborhood, but were told tarps were scheduled for distribution on Tuesday and to come back then, even though we could plainly see the tarps sitting behind the officials' tables --- what a crock

makes me sick to think that the representatives I sent to Washington have no more sense than this; I will vote differently next time but will still bet nothing changes

Once again, another story about Hancock county. When are we going to see more stories about Harrison, Jackson, Pearl River and other south MS counties? This is not meant to take away from the problems in Hancock county, it is only meant to expand this coverage to include other counties in Mississippi heavily affected

I think it is borderline criminal what is going on with the money that has been given to contractors related to the hurricane Katrina clean-up. Can't anyone stop them? Has our government become so askew that this is what it has come to? $2500.00 tarps that cost less than $100? It is embarassing and downright despicable, not to mention wasteful. I do not have any voting rights in that state however feel as though this is a crime against all taxpayers.

Although the need was great and immediate, expediency and relatively unrestricted and loosely regulated government spending by remote control always did and always will equal to plain old WASTE. And in spite of all the aforementioned, here it is nearly 4 months later and the tragedy really is, there are hundreds if not thousands of people desperately waiting still for trailers that just sit empty in holding areas all over South Mississippi.

I honestly don't think voting differently will help; our government is so corrupt that one candidate is no better than the next. Talk about a scam - and who issues these contracts for such outrageous amounts?! It makes me sick to my stomach. Where else but in America??????

At a time when Louisiana's people are pooling together their resources to help each other only to have it's own government give contracts to out of state bidders for three and four times the cost is criminal. Not only should someone look into this but quite a bit of firing should be going on. Oops, I forgot...They were elected by the very people they are screwing! My, my, my....

Typical Washington politics and ineptness. Government has never attracted the best and the brightest. The best leaders and managers work for the private sector. That is why this overspending does not surprise me. Vote Democrat or Republican, it won't change a thing.

I've been waiting for help from FEMA for four months.
I know the materials would be cheaper at Home Depot, but in reality, it might be a little harder to get that price when you say "I need 1.5 million of them."

why do we blame our goverment, its the people there that is costing the taxpayers. If your not from here you have no idea how lazy these people are. I for one am tired of hearing "those poor people. Ive gave money an ive been there an seen these people sitting an complaining, but doing nothing to help. We as a nation have gave an gave to hear them complain. Help out people.

As another example of FEMA waste, my husband met with 8 FEMA inspectors all at once when our FEMA camper was being set up (4 months after the hurricane left us homeless). Clearly, it didn't take 8 people to check that situation out-- about 6-7 of them did nothing but remark on the nice house on our relative's property where we were placing the camper and what a shame it was that it suffered so much damage in the storm.

My significant other took a group of Vietnamese workers (45 of them) to Moss Point, Mississippi as a subcontractor to install blue roofs under a supposedly FEMA-approved contractor from Pensacola, Florida. What a fiasco - the program is a sham. Work was not available as promised, and the contractor pocketed most of the money made. The workers walked away with next to nothing, as did my significant other. This program benefits no one but the contractors. You wouldn't believe the tricks that are pulled in order to withhold payment from the workers. I was and remain thoroughly disgusted.

I have a friend here is Washington State who is going to the south for the month of January to do work for a roofing company who is promising more than $15,000 for a month of work doing FEMA work.

Why can't people just get along. I was raised in Virginia and was taught to help others and expect nothing in return. I have always told the people I help just to help someone else in need. It sure makes it easier. You have to be pertty low to scalp tarps. I now live in Texas and the spirit of helping is alive and well. Others take note.

That's why politicians are known to be low life's.
I would trust a car salesman over a politician or a lawyer any time, as we know almost all politicians are lawyers. This bunch are selling this country for few dollars to the highest bidder foregn or domestic.
Shame on them.

I can not believe the exorbiting costs of these items. Where is the watch dog committee? Also, NBC should be doing fleecing of America on TV. Bring this travesty to the attention of the American people, so they may get in touch with their representatives and complain.

"W" wouldn't recognize a competant face if he saw one, especially when he shaves.

Our Government is an absolute joke. This is just the tip of the iceberg. We need to dump all representation and start over. Unfortunately, until we change the system, more of the same bad spending of our money!!!!! Pork, and self-serving interests of our politicians are absolutely shameful. Our elected representatives should be ashamed of themselves. I think it is about time to put the people's interests who elected you first instead of your own. It starts at the White House and moves down to all levels of government.

This makes me want to cry when I think of my tax dollars being wasted on these greedy unscrupulous robbers!! Especially since I can barely pay my mortgage on a VERY modest home of less than $100,000. This is so unfeeling of our government employees to participate in this at my expense and at the expense of millions of others like me!!!!!@

Tis ridiculous to know that there is hundreds of trailers sitting on a lot in Purvis, Mississippi while people are still living in tents on the Gulf Coast in 32 degree weather. Federal stupidity and contractors have milked the tax payers of billions of dollars, when all this could have been done much more resonably. It angers me to know end that organizations such as FEMA are handed hundreds of millions of dollars and then it is squandered away instead of being use to accomplish the same outcome at a much cheaper rate. I also know of people in the area of my hometown of Columbia MS, just 80 miles north of the Gulf Coast that have FEMA trailers sitting in their yards that are not being used for housing..... What a waste and people on the coast are still waiting for housing

CAN'T "WE THE PEOPLE" AUDIT THE GOVERMENT JUST LIKE THEY AUDIT US IF SOMETHING SEEMS FOUL! BECAUSE THIS WHOLE THING SMELLS OF ROTTING FISH, AND ITS A SHAME THAT WE HAVE TO RELY ON POLITICIANS TO MAKE DECISIONS THAT EFFECT AN ENTIRE REGION. THEY SHOULD LET THE "WE THE PEOPLE" VOTE ON DECISIONS THAT EFFECT OUR POCKETS OR MAYBE REGULAR COMMONERS SHOULD MAKE THE FINANCAIL DECISIONS FOR OUR GOVERNMENT BECAUSE "WE THE PEOPLE" LIVE IN THE REAL WORLD!

Here is an idea.... Let's watch what we spend.... I wish I could get away with spending like the government!! If anybody tried to, they would ge locked up in prison and then a mental hospital!

I was a firefighter deployed to assist with the disaster. I worked the Blue Roof Operation with the US Army Corp of Engineers. We worked in Louisiana, however the same protocol for the mission were followed everywhere.

Basically, the entire mission was to keep water out of the living space. It frustrates me to see the above comment as this person is obviously bashing the goverment blindly, without knowing the entire story.

Some people did not meet the requirements of the tarps. I felt heartbroken to turn someone down for a FEMA tarp, but understood why. I helped as much as I could and only wish I could do more.

The entire Blue Roof Mission was very good. I will tell you now that everything was documented and all tarps being put on were audited. We inspected the tarps and precisely measured how much tarp was put on. We made sure the contracters were paid for the work they did, not what they said they did. All in all, it was a very thought out process, and the government spend only what they had to spend. Kudos FEMA and the Corp!

It truly saddens me to see people complain about things like this. Over and over again I heard "Where is FEMA?"..."Why isnt FEMA helping me?". But the same people saying this had Blue Roofs and didnt realize FEMA helped them. Its a pity.

It's clear many suppliers should be jailed rather than paid. Unfortunately, the crooks within government will protect the crooks outside government. There is a crying need to clean up massive government corruption in this country. Are there no honest people running our governments ??

Who can we vote for? Both of the major parties are full of crooks who buy votes by playing to special interests which are often at odds with the good of the public as a whole.

I voted for a third party during the last election cycle but unless many more Americans give up on the Democrat/Republican crooks nothing will substaitively change. The Democrats blame the Republicans and vice versa. When the Democrats were in charge the Republicans made fun of wasteful spending but now that the Republicans have power they are spending even more.

Why has no one explored the "coincidence" that one of the contractors that is overcharging the US taxpayer is the Shaw Group whose CEO contributed money heavily to and politcal muscle into Blanco's campaign for governor? This story needs be told. Calling Chris Matthews!

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