Hurricane’s surge hits Pearlington
September 2, 2008
PEARLINGTON, Miss. ” The small town on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that was adopted by the Roaring Fork Valley after Hurricane Katrina three years ago suffered extensive flooding Monday during Hurricane Gustav, according to authorities.
At least 100 homes were flooded in Pearlington, according to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. The working-class community, which is in unincorporated Hancock County, had been slowly recovering from Katrina.
“Pearlington once again is kind of ground zero for the problems,” said Tom Dalessandri, a Carbondale resident who has led the Roaring Fork Valley’s relief efforts for the small town.
Dalessandri arrived in Pearlington late last week to help evacuate people he knows. Monday night he was in Prentiss, Miss., about 70 miles north of Pearlington, staying at a church. He worked with church officials during recovery efforts at Pearlington.
Dalessandri said there were gusty winds, incredible strong bursts of rain and tornadoes “all over the place” in Prentiss on Monday.
He said he left Pearlington at 2 p.m. Sunday with a resident of the town, Ben Taylor. “Pearlington was essentially a ghost town at that point,” he said.
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It appeared that many residents had heeded advice to evacuate low-lying area, Dalessandri said. Many people who stayed during Hurricane Katrina were caught in heavy winds and threatened by fast-rising waters that ranged from 18 to 25 feet.
Dalessandri said he talked Monday to a resident of Pearlington who stayed at home during Gustav. That man reported that between 9 and 15 feet of water swamped the town during the storm surge. However, there was no damaging wind like there was with Katrina, the man said.
Dalessandri hoped to travel to Pearlington Tuesday to assess the damage. He is already working with officials from the Carbondale Fire Department and Pitkin County government to line up aid.
“What we’ll need mostly is money and volunteers,” he said. The flooded homes will need to be “mucked out,” meaning the mud and debris will need to be pushed out. It is likely that damaged sheet rock and plywood will have to be removed and replaced.
Dalessandri noted that many homes were rebuilt several feet off the ground on pilings after Katrina, so hopefully the damage won’t be as widespread as before.
The Roaring Fork Valley raised several thousand dollars, and numerous volunteers trekked to Pearlington after Katrina. The relief effort was started by Carbondale Fire Chief Ron Leach after he heard about the poor community’s plight. The effort came to be known as The Pearlington Project: Mountains to Mississippi. Dalessandri became somewhat of a folk hero in Pearlington because he helped coordinate volunteers to work on so many homes.
He estimated Monday that about 500 homes have been rebuilt in the Pearlington area in the three years since Katrina. When he was in Pearlington before Gustav, people seemed resigned that another storm was coming.
“People are just weary,” he said.