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Hurricane recovery effort losing steam

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times
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PEARLINGTON, MISS. ” The Roaring Fork Valley’s relief effort to this hurricane-ravaged community is running out of fuel some 20 months after the storm.

“We’re flat out of money,” said Tom Dalessandri, a Carbondale resident who coordinates the Pearlington Project: Mountains to Mississippi.

The relief effort was launched shortly after the Aug. 29, 2005 hurricane by Carbondale Fire Chief Ron Leach. His research showed this small, unincorporated corner of Hancock County was essentially on its own, with minimal aid from the local, state and federal governments. The Carbondale fire department took the initiative of collecting and sending materials and volunteer workers to Pearlington. The other towns and counties of the Roaring Fork Valley soon joined the effort.



Dalessandri, a former assistant police chief in Aspen and former Garfield County sheriff, was hired to coordinate the relief efforts. He said the Pearlington Project has received and distributed about $300,000 in contributions from valley residents, grants and donations of in-kind materials and supplies. Roughly 9,000 volunteer hours have also been funneled through the valley’s relief agency.

When students arrived from Aspen High School to help for five days this week, Dalessandri picked a handful of job sites where they could help. Since he has become so familiar with the area and its needs, the Pearlington Recovery Center has Dalessandri coordinate some volunteers who show up from places around the country. The recovery center is a sort of clearing house for volunteers and materials.




Dalessandri said the needs remain immense, despite the community’s slow, steady recovery. By his estimate, 35 to 40 percent of the homes in Pearlington are habitable again and additional construction is under way. However, many people are almost 100 percent dependent on volunteer labor and donated materials. Numerous homes sit half-completed, awaiting infusions of volunteers and building supplies.

“People have been very generous, but the message is, it is still only about 35 percent recovered,” Dalessandri said. “I just hope the valley can stay invested.”

For more on the Roaring Fork Valley’s Pearlington Project, visit http://www.pearlingtonproject.com. It includes a link to help people make donations.


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