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9/22/2017 12:11:25 AM
Posted: 9/1/2005 6:51:20 AM EDT
Anger rises among Mississippi's poor after Katrina
Aug 31, 10:11 PM (ET)

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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