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Katrina recovery a priority in Mississippi primary

  • Story Highlights
  • Mississippi still recovering from Hurricane Katrina
  • State holds its primaries Tuesday
  • Most voters looking for a candidate who can help the area rebuild
  • Biloxi has seen a boost from the casino industry
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From Sean Callebs
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BILOXI, Mississippi (CNN) -- While most voters this year have said the economy or Iraq is their top priority, some Mississippi voters have a different focus -- recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina ravaged Biloxi, Mississippi, when the storm tore through in 2005.

Mississippi, which holds its primaries on Tuesday, was hit hard by the storm in 2005. Two-and-half years later, the evidence of the damage is all too clear.

"Some folks care, some people just don't," said John Nutter, who lives in Biloxi.

His brother Derrel cries as he speaks of the house his father built. The mortgage company just foreclosed on the family home -- the home he grew up in. Video Watch the brothers talk about their struggle »

Mark Jones, president of Urban Life Missions, moved to the battered Gulf Coast region to help people in need.

Jones says his organization doesn't have the money to help the Nutter family.

"Everything the candidates are talking about is important to the candidates, but I don't believe it's hitting the pulse of what's happened to the Gulf and the people here," he said.

Katrina was "the single most catastrophic natural disaster in U.S. history," according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It devastated more than 90,000 square miles, led to the displacement of 270,000 Americans and inflicted more than $81 billion in damage.

But the irony is as families are still struggling to get back on their feet, casino business in Biloxi is booming.

Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway says the casinos raked in more than a billion dollars in gross revenue this year. That money has gone toward new schools, but individual homeowners need something else.

"We still need to have some type of stimulus, that the government could come in, that they could put in some businesses. ... Something like that, that can bring more people in here, more money and better jobs," he said.

A recent poll shows Sen. Barack Obama leading Sen. Hillary Clinton 58-34 percent in Mississippi. The American Research Group poll questioned 600 likely Democratic primary voters and has a sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The poll was conducted March 5-6.

Clinton and Obama have been talking about their plan for Gulf Coast recovery as they've campaigned in Mississippi, which has 33 delegates at stake.

"When Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast, the president did not respond," Clinton told supporters in Canton, Mississippi. "I have said that I will do whatever I can to make up for lost time as your president."

Clinton said she would have someone in the White House who is responsible for updating her on the rebuilding process every day.

Obama on Monday vowed that the "failed policies of the last 7 years" -- including Hurricane Katrina -- will be over next year.

"If we're spending $12 billion a month in Iraq, we can spend some of that money right here in the United States of America, rebuilding roads and bridges and hospitals and schools and putting people back to work all across Mississippi, rebuilding the Gulf Coast, rebuilding after the storm -- that work is not yet done," he said in Columbus.


Looking ahead to Tuesday's primary, voters along the state's Gulf Coast say the next two years must be better regardless of who wins the White House, because things can't get any worse.

"I'm going to be honest with you, I think in a few days we're going to be out on the streets. We've got nowhere else to go," John Nutter said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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