Town strives to return to ‘normal’
September 29, 2005
PEARLINGTON, Miss. – It’s nearly impossible to use the words “normal” and “Pearlington” in the same sentence. Nothing is normal in an area where small yachts are stuck up in trees far from the water.But the people who remain in Pearlington are slowly getting their lives back into a rhythm – if not back to normal.Sharon LeSieur’s small ranch-style house was lifted off its foundation and spun around before landing 75 yards away. On the old foundation sits a new washing machine out in the open. It’s hooked up to the water supply from her well.
LeSieur has no home, but at least she has clean clothes. Her two girlfriends, whose families are also without homes, come over to do laundry. Their young children play as if nothing bad has happened.While sucking down a Bud Light and hanging clothes out to dry, LeSieur downplayed her plight. It’s really not all that different from the hunting and camping excursions she and her husband like to take, she said. Except, of course, you know the camping is coming to an end. Uncertainty about the future hangs over the head of Pearlington residents.
For now, LeSieur and her husband live in a camper they bought after their insurance company reimbursed them for the three trucks and old camper they lost in Hurricane Katrina. It’s got a shower and toilet. A grocery store opened Wednesday about 15 miles away.”I’m alive, and I know I’ve got my friends around me,” LeSieur said. “I have cried – I just didn’t want anyone to see me doing it.”Tim and Susan Smith and their two kids have made as much progress as anyone in Pearlington in resuming something close to normal. They washed a small corner of their uninhabitable house down with water and Clorox many times so they could sleep there, away from the mosquitos and other bugs.They strung up a tarp for shade. A tent provides extra relief. Tim secured a generator from the local distribution center, which Carbondale has helped stock, so he’s able to power tools.
He has plenty of time to remove debris from the house and yard. The Lockheed Martin plant where he works as a machinist in New Orleans hasn’t resumed operations yet, one month after Hurricane Katrina struck. He’s getting paid, and the company hopes to resume operations soon.Their daughter was enjoying her senior year when the hurricane hit. Her school in Kiln is now the emergency operations center for Hancock County. Classes are tentatively scheduled to restart in mid-October.The Smiths still get together frequently with friends. Authorities estimate that 250 to 300 people remain in Pearlington, camping out on their property. Pearlington, which is unincorporated and spread out like El Jebel, had a population of 1,700 before the storm.
Those who remain wait for word from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that their temporary trailers are being delivered. So far, only four have arrived.Families like the Smiths and LeSieurs keep chipping away at cleaning up the unimaginable mountains of debris that litter many areas. Someday, they say, they will have their town back.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org