Pearlington recovery at a glance
• The community no longer looks like a war zone. Debris from demolished homes and trashed personal belongings are no longer heaped along the streets.• Construction of new houses is under way on the large, tree-filled lots that dominate the community. Officials estimate that 35 to 40 percent of houses are habitable from reconstruction or new building.• A handful of businesses are operating, including a convenience store/gas station and Turtle Landing, the community’s only bar and restaurant. An automotive body shop reopened, as did a beauty parlor.
• Several churches have reopened or are under renovation. Congregations that lost their churches are borrowing space for services.• The Pearlington Recovery Center is a hub of activity. The old school gym has been converted to a warehouse for tools, construction supplies and dry goods. The old library is a dorm for volunteers.• Volunteer work groups still come to Pearlington, although numbers ebb and flow. Two student groups from the Roaring Fork Valley – one from Aspen High School and another from Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale – spent time there this spring. Pearlington residents universally praise the volunteers for getting the town back on its feet.
• Despite the obvious progress, closer inspection of the town shows how much remains to be done. A handful of houses haven’t been touched since the Aug. 29, 2005, storm. Numerous others have been gutted but there are no signs that the owners are going to renovate them.• Some volunteer efforts are losing steam. Numerous homes that depend on volunteer labor and materials are on hold after being partially built. The Roaring Fork Valley’s Pearlington Project: Mountains to Mississippi is out of money. Its short-term goal is to raise $75,000 to maintain a presence in Pearlington through January. • The post office hasn’t indicated yet if it will rebuild in town. There is one bank of mailboxes isolated in the middle of town for a small number of residents. Many others must drive to the town of Bay St. Louis, 20 miles away, for mail.
• The school district closed and tore down the damaged elementary school, the keystone of Pearlington’s social structure. The town didn’t have a middle school or high school before the storm. Now even the small kids are bused to a consolidated school several miles away.• Some major cleanup remains. A tugboat remains grounded where it came to rest on dry land in a residential area. Smaller boats litter the woods. Other odd sights remains, like a refrigerator stuck 10 feet up in a tree and a vacuum cleaner standing in the bayou.• Stagnant water pools in places where residents say it never collected before the storm. Mosquitoes and gnats abound, although locals say it isn’t as bad as last year.
• Disgust and despair over the actions of insurance companies and local, state and federal governments are widespread. Everyone interviewed said they received only small settlements from their insurers. The companies contend most homes were damaged by the water that swamped the town as part of the storm surge; that type of loss wasn’t covered.• People complain about the length of time it has taken a combined state and federal effort to distribute grants designed to partially offset homeowner losses from the storm. People in heavily impacted areas like Pearlington have filled out reams of paperwork but still don’t know how much they will receive.
• Controversy abounds over a proposal to establish a special taxing district for a sewer system. Homes now rely on private septic systems. The fire chief claimed many of those systems have failed and raw sewage water flows into ditches.• Many people remain housed in small trailers supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. There are widespread reports of mold growing in the cramped quarters. • Squabbling inherent in a small town in the best of times has intensified post-Katrina. Some residents contend that assistance is dictated more by the good ol’ boy network than pure need.
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