- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2005

JACKSON, Miss. - Juan Herrera’s house on the Gulf Coast is destroyed. He has no money, little clothing and is living with his family in a high school gymnasium. But what he needed most in Katrina’s aftermath, he said, was a job.

“I have to make money. I have nothing,” he said.

Thousands of evacuees from ravaged coastal areas began scraping for work this week in the cities and towns where they found themselves stranded after the storm.

Many started their search with no transportation and skills of limited immediate value, but with a desperate need to put enough dollars in their pockets to get moving again.

Some randomly called businesses asking about jobs. Some tried temporary-work agencies in areas where the power and phones were restored.

Mr. Herrera bumped into an employment agent who visited the shelter in Richland, Miss., looking for laborers for a business that makes dry ice.

The job was only for a few days and would require him to work overnight, but Mr. Herrera took it, along with an offer of a nightly ride to work.

“What else can I do?” he said, adding that he hoped to return eventually to his old job at a Chevron facility in Pascagoula.

Other evacuees are looking for a longer-term solution.

Tina Davis, of New Orleans, took one look at video of the disaster back home and came to two quick conclusions: Her house was almost certainly destroyed, and it was time to get to work building a new life someplace else.

“If we can find work in Jackson, we’re staying. What’s there to go back to?” she said. “My fiance is an executive chef. I’m sure there are plenty of places that would love to have him.”

For many job seekers, though, the search is not likely to be easy.

Hundreds of thousands of people were put out of work by the storm. Many are still in areas without power or gasoline.

Those who tried state labor agencies last week got little help, but officials were hoping to turn that around shortly.

“Most of our employment offices south of I-20 are either out of electricity, damaged heavily, or gone,” said Liz Barnett, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Employment Security.

She said Saturday that the agency still wasn’t sure whether its facility in Gulfport was standing. The state hoped to have toll-free telephone numbers available shortly for job seekers needing assistance.

State and local officials in Texas, Tennessee, Georgia and other states with a refugee influx also are setting up programs to link them with employers.

A few employers are reaching out with offers of work.

A fast-food restaurant posted fliers at the shelter in Richland offering jobs. A company in need of laborers to work with steel visited a shelter at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. Craigslist, the Internet-based classified advertising service, is filled with job offers for victims willing to relocate.

Some businesses skipped advertising altogether.

“I was getting ready to put a big ad in the paper and I said, ‘Why would I do that?’ There are tons of people out here looking for work,” said Pene Long, who was hoping to hire between 10 and 15 beauty stylists at her expanding spa in Richland.

By Saturday she had already hired one woman, forced from her home in Biloxi, and had interviews with three more displaced job seekers.

“There are a lot more people looking than there are jobs,” said Dianne Adcock, co-owner of an employment agency in Flowood, Miss. “I just can’t see there being enough for everyone.”

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