Pearlington’s ‘shock factor’ affects CRMS students | AspenTimes.com
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Pearlington’s ‘shock factor’ affects CRMS students

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times
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Editors note: Six months after Hurricane Katrina, Aspen Times reporter Scott Condon and photographer Paul Conrad are visiting Pearlington, Miss., to bring readers up to date on the recovery of this small community that Roaring Fork Valley residents have made the focus of their hurricane-relief efforts. PEARLINGTON, Miss. – Forty-two students from Carbondale’s Colorado Rocky Mountain School were concerned before arriving here that the need for volunteer labor might be waning six months after Hurricane Katrina struck.It didn’t take long for them to discover just how wrong that notion was.”It was just like dead silence” in the vehicles Sunday morning during their tour of Pearlington, said Beda Calhoun, a senior at CRMS. “Definitely the shock factor was big.”Quentin Cantu, co-president of the senior class, said the level of devastation to the community is “crazy” considering that it is a few miles inland from the Gulf Coast.Kavita Krishnakant was surprised by the emptiness of the beaches in other towns in South Mississippi. The only remaining sign that there were once buildings and houses along the coastline were the leftover foundations, she said.”I can’t believe that six months after, it still looks like this,” agreed Michael Chock, another senior.

Hilary Smith, the Pitkin County manager, used vacation time to travel with the CRMS senior class as a chaperone. Three teachers and two chaperones flew into New Orleans with the students Saturday. Most arrived in Pearlington too late to assess the damage until Sunday morning.”Some of the kids said it looked like the Third World. I said, ‘No, I’ve seen Third World. This is Fourth World,'” said Smith.The private boarding school’s seniors typically spend the week before spring break undertaking one or more community projects. They were unified this year in their desire to spend what they call “interim week” assisting Pearlington, a South Mississippi community where Carbondale and the rest of the Roaring Fork Valley have focused hurricane recovery aid. The students raised $20,000 through grants and projects to make the trip.What they saw Sunday morning reinforced their effort. Calhoun said she was struck by the sheer number of tents and trailers that people were calling home in place of their heavily damaged or destroyed houses.”There is way more destruction than can be captured in a picture,” she said.

What they saw Sunday morning reinforced their effort. Calhoun said she was struck by the sheer number of tents and trailers that people were calling home in place of their heavily damaged or destroyed houses.”There is way more destruction than can be captured in a picture,” she said.She and her classmates were inspired to get to work. People champed at the bit Sunday, wondered why they weren’t working instead of driving around on the tour.Dana Loebman, the head of the CRMS math department and an organizer of the trip, said it was important for them to take the tour so the immensity of the devastation would sink in.

By Sunday afternoon, some of the students assisted other crews building sheds for Pearlington residents. In coming days, they will hang sheetrock in the few homes ready for rebuilding, and landscape the cemetery. Their work will be coordinated as part of Carbondale’s Pearlington Project.A group driving from the Church at Redstone is hauling supplies and delivering the students’ tools. The students will work through Friday.Chock said it was incredible to consider that residents and outside volunteers have been working several hours per day, seven days per week since soon after the storm, yet there is still so much to be done. It helped him realize the recovery will take years, not months.”We feel invaluable down here,” said Chock. “I don’t think it’s going to end this week.” Some seniors are talking about volunteering additional time later this spring during their mandatory senior projects.Several seniors said they felt particularly good about making the trip because the Gulf Coast’s situation has been overshadowed in the national consciousness.

“It seems like we’ve forgotten,” said Cantu. “From the looks on their faces, it seems like they feel we’ve forgotten.”The CRMS seniors hope to show that isn’t true.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.


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