Mississippi changed when Hurricane Katrina erased the Coast. Nature abhors a vacuum and volunteers began to pour generosity into the emptiness created by the storm. The overwhelming response by individuals and the private sector forced a private-public partnership.

Gov. Haley Barbour and MEMA opened a processing warehouse where emergency supplies were received and distributed to shelters and relief centers. As truck loads of water and supplies rolled into Mississippi, groups dispatched pickup trucks and trailers through checkpoints to help Mississippians in dire need.

Nissan loaned scores of trucks to MEMA in need of transportation and Ford Motor Company donated dozens of vehicles to first responders. Pharmaceutical companies organized thousands of doses of medicine should the water soaked debris incubate diseases typically reserved for third-world countries.

At the time, I worked on staff of then-U.S Rep. Chip Pickering, and in the days following the storm, his Mississippi-based staff detailed to relief work and his military legislative assistance embedded with the Mississippi National Guard. When I say embedded, he literally slept on a cot at Guard headquarters or at the U.S. Navy Seabees base in Gulfport.

On one occasion, a Simpson County official called Pickering to explain the nursing homes and assisted living facilities had moved all their patients to the county hospital because everyone was without electricity and the hospital had a generator. But, they were nearly out of fuel. They had drained the school buses and county vehicles but were within hours of losing power and people dying. Pickering found fuel in Vicksburg; a jobber able to make it there, withdraw fuel from an industrial tank, and transport it to Simpson County; and arranged security through checkpoints to ensure the fuel arrived safely, undiverted, and on time. On an average day, saving a hospital is an extraordinary accomplishment. In the days following Katrina, hundreds of Mississippians were being heroes every hour.

People across the country watched Mississippi, in the words of Barbour, "hitch up their britches" and get to work. The spirit of Mississippians and the leadership of Barbour contrasted with the debacles in Louisiana where the panicked mayor of New Orleans had reportedly locked himself in a hotel room in fear, and the staff of the Louisiana governor fretted over her outfits and makeup. Meanwhile, Barbour briefed the country daily dressed in a MEMA pullover, just as tired as thousands of his fellow Mississippians.

Mississippi had prepared. Three days before Katrina made landfall, Barbour signed a State of Emergency Order and authorized the use of the National Guard. The storm was still blowing in Mississippi when Guard assets at Camp Shelby were rolling south.

Within a week, Barbour announced the Governor's Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal chaired by Jim Barksdale. Soon the nonprofit Mississippi Hurricane Recovery Fund was chartered to receive and distribute millions of dollars in aid pouring in from private sources. Katrina took 80,000 children out of school; within six weeks every school district but one was reopened. Within a year, only one percent of the debris remained and now four years later, all recovery construction has been completed or begun.

Mississippi focused on communities. The Governor's Commission organized more than 200 architects and city planners to work with locals to devise how best they would decide to rebuild. The plans came from mayors and supervisors. Rather than instructing local governments how to do their business, Barbour instead focused on working with Washington DC to get the necessary resources for recovery.

In the hours and days following Hurricane Katrina, you could find U.S Rep. Gene Taylor on Coast Guard ships on seek-and-rescue trips. Back in Washington, he joined with Pickering and then-Rep. Roger Wicker to make sure in all the talk about New Orleans, the federal government did not forget about Mississippi. Both Taylor, and Sen. Trent Lott, had lost their homes in the storm.

Pickering's HOME Act (Housing Opportunities and Mitigating Emergencies Act of 2005) became the model for Mississippi's Homeowners Assistance Program which has provided $1.99 billion to 27,710 homeowners in Harrison, Hancock, Jackson, and Pearl River Counties. But as an example of the delegation's cooperation, it was essentially combined with Wicker's community development block grants legislation within Senate provisions by Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran and Lott to become a reality. And it took Barbour's heavy lifting with leadership to move it through the process.

As recovery efforts continued, legislation adjusted accordingly. Pickering focused on reforms of federal disaster contracts to give preference to local contractors. Taylor and Lott looked at insurance reform. Wicker, now in the Senate, continues his efforts with effective GO-Zone legislation.

Cochran still delivers on appropriations and Barbour continues to push his vision of a better - not just the same - Mississippi.

Brian Perry of Jackson is a partner in a public affairs firm.