There are events in our lives that we hold in our hearts and minds as defining moments. Like many, I remember the landfall and resulting devastation from Hurricane Katrina that occurred five years ago. It was one of those events Mississippians never will forget as they pass down stories of their own experiences to their children and grandchildren. The storm's devastation took the lives of more than 230 Mississippians, affected more than two-thirds of our counties, and resulted in billions of dollars in damages to infrastructure and our economy. Still today, we suffer from lingering Katrina-related issues, including a lack of affordable property insurance, a slowly recovering population, and an unstable economy.
For many Mississippians, Hurricane Katrina was not just a storm. It was a test of our strength as a community. Committed to our neighbors and dedicated to restoring our way of life, Mississippians worked hard day and night to rebuild. On this five-year anniversary of Katrina, we should remember the strong spirit of community and volunteerism displayed during those tough days. Although much more work remains, I am confident that together we will see a complete recovery from the storm and the new challenges we face today.
Dedicated Effort to Rebuild Gulf Coast
The Mississippi coast has transitioned through many stages of recovery. FEMA trailers, blue tarps, and piles of debris are now memories replaced with groundbreaking ceremonies and ribbon cuttings for new developments and infrastructure. This is a direct result of the many hard working people who put on their gloves and went straight to work to clean up after Katrina. More than 650,000 volunteers from across the country have helped rebuild the Mississippi coast since Hurricane Katrina. New bridges and roads, schools and community centers, and homes and storefronts are now a reality because of the selfless efforts and hard work of the volunteers who rolled up their sleeves to help us reconstruct our coastline. While these improvements are valuable to the long-term health of the state and the economy, they do not compare to the benefits we gain from a stronger, more dedicated, and battle-tested community. We saw this level of community vigilance and willingness to help fellow Mississippians earlier this year when oil washed up on our shores.
Fighting Through a Challenging Time
Mississippi and the Gulf Coast have come a long way since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005. Unfortunately, the destructive storm was not the only blow that would hit us. We have also suffered through a national recession, and we continue to battle one of the worst man-made disasters our country has seen -- the Gulf oil spill. These events have complicated the recovery efforts of the Coast. Unemployment in Mississippi is over 11 percent, and that number may rise as a result of the oil spill and the jobs being threatened by the administration's offshore drilling moratorium, but I am confident in our ability to weather this new storm.
A Brighter Future
While Mississippians continue to do their part to rebuild and recover from not only Katrina, but also the oil spill, Congress should continue to do its part to help ensure we are prepared in the future. The storm exposed many weak areas in our government's response efforts that require significant improvements. I have worked hard with my colleagues representing the Gulf Coast states to secure federal disaster assistance funds for recovery and rebuilding efforts and help streamline the bureaucratic red tape that burdened so many residents. Finding a way forward to reform the National Flood Insurance Program so Mississippians can afford the coverage needed to protect their homes remains one of my top priorities. I am also continuing work on legislation that would help attract more private-sector investments to create jobs and boost the Gulf Coast economy.
We have made great strides in rebuilding the Gulf Coast since Katrina, and I will continue to work with Congress to help foster economic development and ensure we are better prepared the next time we face such a natural disaster.