Pearlington ‘dodged a bullet’ | AspenTimes.com

Pearlington ‘dodged a bullet’

PEARLINGTON, Miss. ” Residents in Pearlington, Miss., let out sighs of relief Tuesday while drying out from Hurricane Gustav.

“They’re relieved that it wasn’t Katrina,” said resident Sharon LeSieur, assessing the mood of residents Tuesday.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency estimated that 100 homes in the small community were flooded to some degree, but the devastation wasn’t nearly as great as when Hurricane Katrina struck three years ago. Katrina destroyed or heavily damaged nearly all homes, businesses and churches in the community of 1,700 people.

The Roaring Fork Valley adopted Pearlington after Katrina and provided direct aid to help with recovery.

LeSieur rode out both hurricanes in Pearlington with her husband, Clyde. She said there was no comparison between Katrina and Gustav.

Hurricane Katrina destroyed their old house and many of their possessions. They were among the first to rebuild in Pearlington. Their new house is built on 10-foot high pilings on a foundation a few feet above sea level. The LeSieurs were confident they wouldn’t get flooded, particularly as Gustav drifted west.

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Sharon didn’t see their decision to stay put for Gustav as particularly brave, despite a life-threatening experience in Katrina.

“I just had a feeling that it wasn’t going to be as bad,” she said.

It wasn’t. The water gradually trickled in through the ditches and bayou. “Katrina rolled in fast,” she said.

The floodwater Monday eventually surrounded their house but didn’t reach their concrete slab. The LeSieurs watched from the deck while their six dogs played in the water.

Margaret Ladner and her husband, George, a couple in their 70s, decided to flee Pearlington before Gustav. “I always leave when it’s a Category 2,” said Margaret, referring to hurricane strength. They stayed with friends 35 miles to the north.

It was nerve-racking waiting to find out how Pearlington fared. “We kept getting different reports,” Ladner said. Finally, they received definitive word Monday night that their house wasn’t flooded. They returned Tuesday morning and saw for themselves.

Their old house was tore apart by Katrina’s winds and swamped by the storm surge. After a period of uncertainty, they built a new home, relying heavily on volunteer labor. They moved in to their new house just before Christmas 2006.

The Ladners’ garage was swamped with about 18 inches of water, but the house was high and dry. Fortunately the ground was built up several feet for the foundation.

Not everyone was so fortunate. Tom Dalessandri of Carbondale is in Pearlington. He has headed the Roaring Fork Valley’s aid efforts to the community over the past three years and returned before Gustav.

He said two low-lying subdivisions that were hit hard by Katrina were flooded again by 3 to 4 feet of water. Homes that were raised when they were rebuilt fared well, but those built at ground level were flooded. The flooding scattered debris throughout the town, and tree limbs were blown down.

“It’s not unlike Katrina ” just on a smaller scale,” Dalessandri said.

A popular bar and restaurant called Turtle Landing, rebuilt after it was heavily damaged by Katrina, was deluged by up to 8 feet of water, Dalessandri said. Overall, most of the flooded homes he saw had about 18 inches of water, he estimated. The fire station and a gas station/convenience store weren’t flooded.

The power was restored to much of the town Tuesday, and the Red Cross was traveling around providing bottled water. A daily curfew at 6 p.m. requires people to stay on their property. Dalessandri said he didn’t see a lot of people at home Tuesday, but expectations were that many would return Wednesday.

The storm took a heavy toll mentally, according to Dalessandri. It was evident to him that people were under a great deal of stress worrying that Gustav would shatter their rebuilt lives and wipe out the progress of the past three years.

“People are just glad it’s over,” Dalessandri said. “Everybody agrees we dodged a bullet on this one.”

Dalessandri is assessing what type of aid the Roaring Fork Valley can provide. Details of an organized effort will be announced after that assessment is complete.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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