Why we visited Pearlington, Miss.
The Aspen Times rarely strays from the friendly confines of the Roaring Fork Valley. So why did we send a photographer and reporter down to Pearlington, Miss., for five days, Sept. 28-Oct. 3?Simple.Carbondale decided in September to “adopt” Pearlington, as a way of focusing its hurricane relief efforts. Research by Carbondale fire chief Ron Leach and others showed the town wasn’t getting much attention in the days following the storm. Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt and Pitkin County joined Carbondale’s effort 10 days later.Supplies from the Roaring Fork Valley are now being trucked directly to Pearlington, rather than passing through other governmental or nonprofit organizations.Here at the Times, we wanted to know more about Pearlington. If the Roaring Fork Valley is serious about helping an unincorporated, working-class town of about 1,700 people on the Louisiana border, we thought, then valley residents need to understand what happened in the big storm, how Pearlington residents are faring and what their prospects are for the future.What we found is a community on the ropes. Nearly six weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit on Aug. 29, conditions are still extremely tough.Most of the homes and buildings were wiped out. Many were “slabbed,” as the locals now say – swept away, leaving nothing but the concrete slab foundations. The community is literally covered in debris. Cleanup is slow. The low-density area doesn’t receive as much attention as higher-profile cities and towns nearby.A few hundred hearty residents are scratching out an existence at their old homes. They don’t want to leave their property; it’s the only thing they have left. Others have already purchased homes elsewhere.Those who stay are facing months, more likely years, of slow recovery and reconstruction. We wanted to provide a glimpse of what it’s going to take – and why the people of Pearlington deserve a long-term commitment from the Roaring Fork Valley.
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A recent survey of Aspen residents shows that people are happy here, feel safe but are financially insecure.