- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 5, 2005

BILOXI, Miss. (AP) — A volunteer church crew works deep in the muck and mold that was Greg Herman’s home to clear his property in preparation for rebuilding. Closer to downtown, Peggy Gibson’s small home stands ready for contractors, if she can find the money.

Both homes were on city housing inspector Ron Dennis’ route on a recent day. Since Hurricane Katrina hit Aug. 29, he has been backlogged with requests from citizens wanting the OK to start anew.

All along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, code enforcers and building inspectors like Mr. Dennis are making crucial judgments, sorting out what’s safe and what has to go, who can rebuild where and when.

The often grueling work is helping the region’s cities get back to normal one house and one block at a time, but it’s slow going.

“As I fall farther and farther behind, it’s going to take longer for them to rebuild their houses,” Mr. Dennis said.

Biloxi had 12,364 residential structures before Katrina. Of those, 5,014 were destroyed or damaged beyond repair. Another 2,500 are in limbo. The city has seven inspectors.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has started telling homeowners in some hurricane-damaged regions of Louisiana and Mississippi that it has decided not to wait for individual home inspections and will begin paying up to $26,200 per home based on satellite images of the most heavily damaged areas. The homes were presumed uninhabitable.

In Mississippi, Mr. Dennis starts each day in a Chevy pickup with “Code Enforcement” written on the tailgate. The tires have to be patched weekly because he’s constantly driving over stray nails.

On this day he takes on 30 cases in hopes of clearing up some of the backlog. It takes a bit of effort to find some of them — wind has blown away address numbers and street signs. All sorts of things, even entire houses, block some of the roads.

When Mr. Dennis finds Mr. Herman’s home, the work crew is shoveling out debris.

“I hope he had flood insurance,” Mr. Dennis says, resting his clipboard on a filled garbage can. “They had some serious water run through here.”

After walking around the house, he stops to fill out paperwork. He puts an “X” next to “extensive damage.” Fixing the flood damage will cost more than 40 percent of the home’s market value.

Mr. Herman says he did not have flood insurance: “We were told we didn’t need it and next thing you know our house gets destroyed by a wall of water.”

Miss Gibson is firm in her thinking, even though her home sustained heavy damage and it fails Mr. Dennis’ inspection.

“I would rather start over again,” she said. “Even if I have to break it down to the core.”

For inspectors like Mr. Dennis, the work can be tedious, sometimes mundane and often unappreciated.

Fellow Biloxi inspector Hank Rogers put it this way: “We end up breaking more hearts than we mend.”

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