updated 9/6/2005 11:41:31 AM ET 2005-09-06T15:41:31

Julian Fayard lost his home in Hurricane Katrina but not his business. The 31-year-old's petrol station and grocery store in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, was badly damaged but not beyond repair.

"There were two gas pumps blown over, the canopy had been torn away and there was debris everywhere," he says. "I have spent almost every waking minute since the storm getting this place up and running."

The grocery store re­opened on Friday, four days after Katrina, and the petrol station was back in service on Sunday. Within minutes of the pumps reopening, vehicles were queuing for hundreds of meters.

Similar scenes are occurring throughout southern Mississippi as the region's economy creaks back into action after a week in which normal life shut down. Power has been restored to more than 30 per cent of customers and water is running again in less damaged areas, allowing businesses to clean up and reopen. Local radio stations deliver messages from employers asking staff to return to work and contractors are hiring labor to help with debris clearance and repairs.

Mr. Fayard is doing "triple or quadruple" his normal daily business, such is the demand for food, cold drinks and petrol. But he refuses to profiteer, selling his fuel for only 6 cents more than before Katrina and pegging groceries at their pre-storm prices.

Coca-Cola and Budweiser are among the companies that have delivered fresh supplies to Mr. Fayard since the storm, as distribution chains slowly begin to function again. He even has a fridge full of fresh steak.

"When people come in here and see they can get a piece of fresh meat or a cold beer it gives them encouragement that life can be normal again," he says.

A few miles west, the giant Wal-Mart superstore in D'Iberville has been open since the day after the storm – testimony that corporate America proved quicker to respond to the disaster than the government. In the days after Katrina, Wal-Mart trucks carrying emergency supplies for their stores appeared more plentiful than disaster relief vehicles on the roads heading south into Mississippi. For most of last week, the D'Iberville Wal-Mart operated without electricity. Members of staff accompanied each customer around the store to make a list of the products bought, tallying the total using calculators. People queued for hours.

The store, which is usually open 24 hours a day, had to close each evening to meet the police curfew still being imposed along the Mississippi coast after 8 p.m.. National Guard units have been positioned in the car park to maintain order.

Despite the limited hours and lack of power, Sean Stiglets, the store's co-manager, says daily revenues have been a quarter more than usual because of the high demand.

He says there is no shortage of supplies, with large quantities of goods having been re-directed from other stores. His biggest problem has been keeping the merchandise flowing on to the shelves, because half the store's 600 employees have not yet returned to work.

Back in Ocean Springs, the Hampton Inn Hotel reopened on Saturday and its 71 rooms were immediately occupied, mostly by insurance company officials streaming into the area to assess claims. Hari Patel, the hotel manager, expects to be full for weeks.

Picking up the pieces after Katrina will be harder for small businesses without the support provided by large corporations. And many important parts of the Mississippi economy, most notably its numerous casinos, sustained damage that will take months to repair. The casinos alone generated $400,000 of tax revenues a day and supported thousands of jobs.

However, George Schloegel, chief executive of Hancock Bank, based in Gulfport, says the region will recover.

He told local radio that Mississippi enjoyed its strongest economic growth in the years following Hurricane Camille in 1969. He said the same would happen this time as billions of dollars of aid and insurance payments poured in and people spent money rebuilding their lives. "The slate has been wiped clean and we now have an opportunity to build a stronger and better economy", he said. "We're going o see growth like we've never seen before."

Copyright The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved.


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