JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ Gov. Haley Barbour says even as crews continue searching for bodies and trying to meet immediate needs of Hurricane Katrina survivors, leaders need to focus on the broad task of rebuilding a better Mississippi.
``I am committed to going beyond recovering and rebuilding,″ Barbour told about 100 lawmakers Thursday at the Capitol. ``I am committed to our having a renaissance on the Gulf Coast that makes it bigger and better and everything that it can be.″
He said ``a breathtaking amount of infrastructure″ is destroyed in south Mississippi _ highways, bridges, rail lines and water and sewer systems.
Barbour said Mississippi’s death toll on Thursday was ``200 plus.″ He didn’t provide a specific number.
About 203,000 homes and businesses statewide remained without power. Mississippi Power Co. plans to restore electricity to all the customers who can take it by Sunday, Barbour said. The company serves most of the Gulf Coast and parts of east Mississippi.
On Thursday in Gulfport, Vice President Dick Cheney told reporters he was struck by the ``very positive, can-do″ attitude of Mississippians toward the help they are getting. In general, Mississippi officials have been much more complimentary of the federal hurricane response than those from Louisiana and, particularly, New Orleans.
After meeting with state and local officials, Cheney and his wife, Lynne, toured a particularly damaged part of the town.
``I think the progress we’re making is significant,″ Cheney said. ``I think the performance, in general, at least in terms of the information I’ve received from locals, is definitely very impressive.″
He added: ``That’s not to say there’s not an awful lot of work to be done _ there is.″
Cheney walked about two blocks from the Gulf of Mexico along a street littered with broken wood, downed trees and furniture. Some houses were severely damaged, some hardly at all.
He visited Rebecca Dubuisson, who said she spent a year and a half adding an extension on her house only to see it wiped away by the hurricane. Dubuisson said she didn’t want to criticize the relief effort.
``I don’t know that you could have prepared for it,″ she said.
Most the people Cheney met with were friendly. An exception was Lynne Lofton, whose house down the street was destroyed.
``I think this media opportunity today is a terrible waste of time and taxpayer money,″ she said. ``They’ve picked a nice neighborhood where people have insurance and most are Republicans.″
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s plan to get spending money into the pockets of Katrina victims continued Thursday in Texas, where long lines were reported at the Houston Astrodome.
How soon the federal money _ $2,000 debit cards _ would make its way to Mississippi was unclear.
``The debit card is not scheduled for Mississippi yet,″ said FEMA spokesman James McIntyre.
McIntyre said FEMA officials wanted to gauge how it worked in Texas before trying it in other states.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Labor said state of Mississippi would get $15.7 million to speed up unemployment insurance payments to people left out of work by the hurricane.
Labor Department officials said the state could use the money to open mobile offices, hire temporary staff, rebuild damaged facilities and process claims by telephone or Internet.
Barbour said he has told state agency directors to submit to him, by Friday, their plans for how to handle their response to Katrina over the next 30 days, 90 days, one year and three years.
The governor expects to call a special legislative session to address storm needs, but he hasn’t set a date. House and Senate leaders, who spent much of this past regular session squabbling over the budget, pledged their cooperation.
``We’ve been knocked off our feet, but we won’t allow this to keep us down,″ said House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi.
Barbour said he’s appointing a commission to coordinate discussions among state and local officials, business leaders and others about what shape the recovery should take. He said the commission will be led by former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale of Jackson.
Associated Press writer Tom Raum in Gulfport contributed to this report.