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Silent halls

Paul ConradPhotos by Paul Conrad
Paul Conrad/Aspen Times Weekly
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A thin veil of light filters through the mud-stained glass of Charles B. Murphy Elementary School, illuminating unfinished lessons from Aug. 26, 2005.A gentle wind meanders past the scattered, mud-encrusted toys. A U.S. flag hangs on the wall, still waiting for the morning’s pledge of allegiance.

What game was last played with the computer mouse on the mud-covered table?Six months after Hurricane Katrina decimated Pearlington, Miss., the local elementary school continues to stand empty and deteriorate. Murphy elementary was flooded to within a foot of its ceilings by Katrina’s storm surge.Like the glass lying in the school’s halls, lives were shattered and families were displaced. Much of Pearlington’s community identity was carried away with the receding flood waters.The school once held the town library and the local gymnasium. It was the hub of activity. That changed Aug. 29, however, and habitable parts of the building turned into the local hurricane relief center. The library now houses volunteers and the gym hosts a “store” for locals in need of food, cleaning supplies or a helping hand. As such, it remains a place for townspeople to gather and offer each other support.

Buckled floors, scattered furniture, muddy debris and empty rooms are all that remain of this learning institution. Months after Katrina, a temporary school was erected some 20 miles away in the town of Kiln. The students board buses early in the morning and return to Pearlington late in the afternoon. Some sleep in class to make up for the long bus ride. What will become of Charles B. Murphy depends on the will of the school board. With less than half of the students it hosted pre-Katrina and no money to rebuild, the school’s future is dubious. Life has changed in this small town and it is still unclear what has happened to its heart.


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