‘Serendipity’ led valley to adopt Pearlington in wake of storms | AspenTimes.com

‘Serendipity’ led valley to adopt Pearlington in wake of storms

John Colson

Terry McShane of Carbondale helps clear a yard of debris in Pearlington, Miss. (Aspen Times file)

The towns and counties of the Roaring Fork Valley are charging ahead with ongoing support and help for a small Mississippi town that Hurricane Katrina flattened.But as that effort continues, there is a question that some have asked – why Pearlington? How did the initiators of the Pearlington relief campaign ever choose a small, relatively isolated, unincorporated community of 1,700 perched on the delta of the Pearl River?In the words of one of those involved, it was a matter of “serendipity.”

In the days after Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, it became apparent to some that the response by state and federal emergency relief organizations was not getting the job done and whole communities were literally dying for lack of help.Carbondale Fire Chief Ron Leach, who was one of the people who made the choice to focus on Pearlington, recalled on Thursday that he and his public information officer, Doug Davis, met on Sept. 2 with Carbondale Town Manager Tom Baker, Police Chief Gene Schilling and Mayor Michael Hassig, to talk about how Carbondale might offer direct assistance to some wrecked city or county in the Gulf Coast region.”We were looking for a town,” Leach said, “that was not on the radar screen,” a town that had been devastated but was not getting much help. The city of Waveland, Miss., was the subject of a brief discussion, but it had already been adopted and was frequently featured in national news reports about the hurricane and its aftermath. What they wanted was a town that was still not getting the help it needed, Leach said.Leach said that after the meeting, Davis and a longtime friend of Leach who has worked in emergency management but has asked that he not be identified began searching for an appropriate beneficiary of whatever help Carbondale could offer.

After three days of hit-and-miss telephone work, the man said, Pearlington kept coming up.”I’ll tell you who picked out Pearlington,” the man said. “It was the people down there … the people of southern Mississippi picked Pearlington.”He contacted Hancock County, where the only emergency communication conduit was one satellite phone for the entire county. He called fire departments in the region, county officials, church pastors and more, and “all roads led back to Pearlington.”Leach said that about the same time, Davis’ Internet research had hit upon the same town as needing help badly.

So, by the time a second meeting took place, on Sept. 9, Leach was able to tell the others, “Pearlington is the place.”Shortly after that, municipal and county governments up and down the valley joined in, and the Red Ball Express got rolling.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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