Anguilla resident Timiesha Gowdy, who is currently residing in a hotel, at town hall seeking assistance after the recent tornado that devastated the area, Wednesday, March 29, 2023. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Mississippi, a rural, low-income state vulnerable to a bevy of natural disasters, often looks for federal aid to support its recovery. But many Mississippians who either endure disasters or who live in rebuilding communities don’t get the help they’re looking for. 

Rules around dispersing federal aid prevent some communities from getting the assistance they need and impose, for some, insurmountable limitations. 

It all depends on where you live, how badly your area was damaged, and what local officials must agree to do to ensure protection for when another disaster strikes. 

A home affected by the federal 50 percent rule in Pascagoula, Miss., Wednesday, May 17, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

“We feel like we were left out,” Victoria Jackson, a tornado survivor in Sharkey County said. “We lost everything that we had, but the government did not declare us a disaster.” 

With storms becoming more frequent and more intense around the world as the atmosphere continues to warm from human pollution, communities are confronting the complex web of bureaucracy that comes with disaster preparation and recovery. 

“It’s been a battle from day one,” said Josh Church, Pascagoula’s planning and building director, about federal rules on improving homes in a flood zone. 

What often gets lost in the media coverage of disasters is what happens months and years after a storm hits, and how communities seek aid to rebuild.

This week, Mississippi Today will publish stories that examine the different ways communities around the state have struggled to recover, and what roles local and federal policies play in those issues.  

On the Coast, reporter Sara DiNatale talked to property owners, commuters and local officials in Pascagoula to understand how a federal regulation known as the 50% rule hinders efforts to maintain the city’s housing stock. As a result, the story shows, the city is left with unfulfilled potential to boost its population and economy.

In the south Delta, reporter Alex Rozier looked at how disasters considered too small for federal aid are treated in Mississippi, and why rural survivors are often left behind. 

Both stories show that local needs for dealing with disasters in Mississippi are unmet, and that communities will continue to suffer without major changes in how we prioritize recovery and rebuilding. 

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Alex Rozier, from New York City, is Mississippi Today’s data and environment reporter. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Open Secrets, and on In 2019, Alex was a grantee through the Pulitzer Center’s Connected Coastlines program, which supported his coverage around the impact of climate change on Mississippi fisheries.