Thursday, September 8, 2005

Assisting hurricane evacuees
• Thomas, others go south to help

By SUE WATSON
Staff Writer

Chancery Clerk Chuck Thomas, Jim Summerlin of Holly Springs and Ray Nooner of Tippah County spent four days in Biloxi, Gulfport and Ocean Springs recovering, identifying and tagging bodies found in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts last week.

Thomas, formerly Marshall County coroner, said just under 200 bodies were recovered before he left the area.

He said the victims were from among all ages, races — men, women and children. Most of the victims had identification on them, he said, and most of the bodies were found in the rubble, but some were found in attics. Canine teams were used to locate bodies.

The team went to the area at the request of the Mississippi Funeral Home Director’s Association. The group travelled in a motor home for sleeping accommodations and carried a satellite phone with them.

Spotters located and marked bodies using GPS coordinates and then called the coroners to retrieve the victims’ bodies, he said.

Thomas brought back photographs of the destruction, which included a picture of an above ground mausoleum that had lost its caskets, the destroyed home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, a pile of new cars swept from a automobile dealer’s parking lot, Casinos washed ashore to the north side of Highway 90 and churches standing with missing walls.

Northcentral Mississippi Electric Power Association also sent crews southward after restoring power to its own customers following the August 29 storm.

General Manager Kevin Doddridge said Northcentral workers started working at 4 p.m. August 29 and it took about 26 hours to get power back up in its service area which includes Byhalia.

“The next day we sent crews to work in Oxford and Lafayette County,” he said.

A fresh work team was scheduled to leave for Greenwood Saturday, September 3.

“We will probably send three pieces of equipment and six men to Greenwood,” he said. “They need just a little help to get them over the hump.”

Doddridge said his company has been asked to help on the Gulf Coast, but due to strain on communication in the central and southern portion of the state he expects it to be two weeks before they leave for assignments further south.

He said Northcentral plans to keep a close watch on fuel supplies, poles and other necessities to keep service going at home.

He expects the Gulf Coast effort to keep some of Northcentral’s workers deployed for quite a while trying to help restore power in South Mississippi, he said.

“When we get the order to go to the coast, we will be there for a while,” he said. “We will probably wind up sending all types of people, not just line workers. We will send people to handle the meals and communications people. They have asked for help; not just line workers are needed.”

Holly Springs Fire Chief Ken Holbrook said the names of fire and rescue workers locally are on a list of available people to help with the effort, if needed.

“When they want us, they will call us,” he said. “We are just waiting and willing to help.”

County Administrator Larry Hall advised the board of supervisors Monday that the Mississippi Association of Supervisors is compiling contact information to help provide assistance to coastal counties. The association has asked for a list of specific types of assistance counties are prepared to provide.

“They will submit a list to Mississippi Emergency Management Association and forward resources to stricken areas,” he said. “We have a mutual aid agreement.”


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