Honorable Mention: Hurricane Katrina and Pearlington, Miss. | AspenTimes.com

Honorable Mention: Hurricane Katrina and Pearlington, Miss.

Patti Clapper loads Christmas toys and gifts for Pearlington kids on Nov. 28. Clapper's trip to Mississippi is one of many that valley residents have taken to the hurricane-ravaged town. (Mark Fox/Aspen Times Weekly)

It would hardly be appropriate to list the newsmakers of 2005 without noting Hurricane Katrina.

The category 5 storm that slammed into the Gulf Coast in late August changed America. Much of an entire city was destroyed, millions of people in Louisiana and Mississippi were displaced and the federal government looked as ineffective in helping Americans as the levees in New Orleans were in holding back the water. But where the government failed, Americans themselves tried to compensate. The response both nationally and locally was enormous. In the Roaring Fork Valley, people from Aspen to Glenwood Springs swiftly began donating supplies and money to hurricane victims and trucking them southward. Typically such efforts would have waned after a few weeks, but it soon became clear, thanks in large part to the leadership of the Carbondale & Rural Fire District, that the damage was widespread and deep, and a long-term relief effort was needed.

The fire district, town government and the people of Carbondale decided to “adopt” Pearlington, a small, unincorporated community of 1,700 people near the Gulf Coast of Mississippi – just the kind of place that could easily be overlooked forever. Soon other valley governments joined the effort and, while the rest of the nation watched the chaos in New Orleans, citizens from Carbondale to Aspen focused on tiny Pearlington. Volunteers and regular vanloads of supplies were dispatched.Pearlington wasn’t the only beneficiary of the Roaring Fork Valley’s efforts, however. Artists from New Orleans were given a place to stay and work at the Anderson Arts Center. A few dozen dogs left behind in the evacuation of New Orleans, including the notorious Buster, were given temporary or permanent homes. Doctors traveled to communities along the coast to help. One woman rode her bicycle to Baton Rouge, La., to deliver $2,000 in cash and her bike, then spent several weeks volunteering in Pearlington.

Hurricane Katrina may have hit some 1,300 miles from Aspen, but it served to unite the Roaring Fork Valley in ways nobody could have anticipated.

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