Valley’s hurricane relief jells to help Pearlington, Miss. | AspenTimes.com

Valley’s hurricane relief jells to help Pearlington, Miss.

Samantha Netto, 8, plays jump rope in front of her aunts damaged home where she and her family have set up a camp in Pearlington, Miss. About 600 of the towns 1,700 people are still living in tents and under tarps after Hurricane Katrina. (The Associated Press)

The small, devastated town of Pearlington, Miss., will get help from the entire Roaring Fork Valley in its effort to recover and rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.Carbondale “adopted” Pearlington earlier this month as a way to cut through government bureaucracy and offer immediate relief to a hurricane-ravaged town. The governments of Pitkin County, Aspen, Snowmass Village and Basalt joined Carbondale’s effort Wednesday.”Our spirit is not one of turf and not one of ownership,” Carbondale Fire Chief Ron Leach told the managers of the other governments. “It’s one of cooperation. Let’s do some good here as a valley.”The other governments were eager to join in an effort that is unique because it offers one-on-one assistance to victims rather than filtering aid through an organization such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Red Cross.Carbondale selected Pearlington, about five miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, because it was essentially wiped off the map.

“We tried to take pictures, but there was nothing there,” said Darrell Nelson, a retired logistical director for the U.S. Coast Guard who is now helping coordinate the Carbondale Fire Department’s relief effort. He visited Pearlington briefly on Sept. 13.He figured that maybe one home was salvageable in a town of 1,700 people, based on what he saw. The Associated Press reports 600 people were sticking around the town, sleeping on the ground.Houses were swept 40 feet off their foundations and often scattered like matchsticks, Nelson said. Debris was scattered and piled everywhere. It’s hard to fathom the utter devastation unless you see it, he said.”What they could use is a D9 cat to push everything in the ditch,” Nelson said.The storm deposited the hulls of sailboats six to eight feet up in trees. The buildings that weren’t damaged by wind and flood were swamped by 30 feet of murky water and will be unusable. The school was so damaged that buses will take kids 25 miles away to trailers FEMA set up.Teachers reported that they are supposed to resume classes Sept. 30 – but they have no idea what to start classes with, Nelson said. There are no textbooks, no supplies.

But Leach said Carbondale volunteer firefighters in the area reported Wednesday afternoon that some residents of Pearlington are determined to stay.”[The firefighters] reported piles of debris,” Leach said. “They saw American flags, and they saw signs saying, ‘We will rebuild.'” The Carbondale and Rural Fire Department delivered an ambulance this week along with a pickup truck loaded with portable generators, small cooking stoves, rakes, shovels and cots so people don’t have to sleep on the ground.Carbondale also took the initiative to buy a travel trailer that will serve as a mobile command center. It will arrive in Pearlington this weekend along with other supplies. Volunteer firefighters will stay there and use it as a headquarters to assess what type of relief would be best from the Roaring Fork Valley.For up to three months, Leach anticipates that the command center will request certain types of supplies. Pitkin County official Nan Sundeen said valley residents have already shown they are eager to help.”People are ready to respond. They have stuff, they just don’t know how to get it down there,” she said.

Now they can channel their efforts. It’s hard to say what exactly will be needed at different times, but individuals in the valley can always contribute money to help acquire, then deliver the supplies, Leach said.Checks can be sent to the Carbondale and Rural Fire Department, Katrina Relief, 300 Meadowood Drive, Carbondale, CO 81623.Area hospitals are already helping. Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs sent medicine to Pearlington. Aspen Valley Hospital trauma chief Janice Martin said AVH officials have talked to medical officials in Pearlington and are ready to send a physician, nurse or both. They are waiting for the call – which could come as soon as Oct. 6, she said.Valley officials are determined to help Pearlington long after it can meet its immediate needs. Pitkin County Manager Hilary Smith said the town will need help for years rebuilding essential community services like schools. The relief effort could be a multiyear process, she said.Locally, officials need administrative help coordinating the relief effort. Anyone with spare time, along with computer and organizational skills, may call the Carbondale Fire Department at 963-2235.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com