Thursday, September, 22, 2005

Marshall County boosts storm relief efforts

Staff Writer

A Marshall County road crew is in its third week helping clear roads and rooftops in Pearl River County, according to Larry Hall, county administrator.

Lester Tuggle and Jerome Richmond have replaced two equipment operators working in Pearl River County, he said. Curt Huey, Simpson Stroupe, George Hardin, Mario Jeffries and Granville Reid were on duty the first two weeks clearing streets and trees from homes in small communities the size of Potts Camp and smaller, Hall said.

They are working 12-hour shifts and sleeping on air mattresses in a day care center in Picayune. Makeshift outdoor showers were set up for their baths.

Hall said some evacuees are returning to their homes in Pearl River County and the county crew is lapping back and clearing trees from homes as owners return. They cannot work without a signed release from the property owner, he said.

The clearing efforts of volunteer road crews are crucial for power companies that can get electricity restored to homes once the downed trees are removed from homes and streets, Hall said.

He said the volunteer efforts of this crew has made county workers realize how important it is to help another community get back on its feet.

“It has brought our people together,” Hall said.

Reflecting back on the 1994 ice storm that took down power in Marshall County and elsewhere throughout the state and several tornadoes, the amount of work required to restore homes and communities in south Mississippi will go on for months, not weeks, Hall said.

“Of course we gave our county immediate attention and worked toward a rapid cleanup to keep from disrupting school and people’s everyday lives - to keep everybody mobile and safe,” said Hall. “In the case of this hurricane, every spot in the county resembles the worst tornadic activity we’ve ever seen up here.

“I feel for them the way we did here when we had the ice storm and the county had to shut down.”

He described the feeling as a sense of helplessness when one realizes the resources are not there nor is there enough time in one day to get a community uprighted.

“We pitched together - our fire departments and other departments - to pull together in the situation in 1994 and it was still a drawn out procedure. And now we know there is somebody out there in that same situation that we can help. It produces an urgent desire to pitch in and take them out of this situation.

“I feel like the next time we have something like an ice storm they will be here if at all possible.”

Hall said communities and local governments like the feeling of confidence gained from being independent and able to take care of their own.

“But this is big for these counties and it is impossible to meet all the needs with the resources they were left with,” he said.

Much of the equipment - vehicles and equipment - was ruined by the storm in the coastal counties and people had evacuated leaving few there to cope with insurmountable problems, he said.

“To give you some idea of the magnitude of the destruction in Pearl River County, it is larger than Marshall County and not even a coastal county,” he said. “It is 20 miles from the coast.”

Hall said damage in Pearl River County was due to tornadoes, not a storm surge.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has contracted to remove debris that was pushed to the side of the roads and highways and with debris and ruined goods residents are bringing to the roadsides to be picked up, he said. FEMA provided $37 million to Pearl River County for countywide cleanup. Contractors will make three sweeps over the roads in Pearl River County to collect trees and the remains of destroyed real estate, he said.

Nearby Hancock County and Harrison County in effect have lost their tax base, he said.

“All they have left to tax is the land; most personal property is gone. And commercial property is at a standstill,” he said.

The federal government did step in and say it would help counties make payroll but numbers of workers were not showing up for work, he said.

The storm did not discriminate between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the less powerful, Hall said. Two supervisors in Hancock County lost their homes and over half the county equipment was under water and couldn’t be used, he said.

Silt Hall described as gray, salty mud three to four inches in depth covered roads and highways in coastal counties affected by the storm surge. The silt was scraped off the road where it dried and cracked under the heat. Vehicles with windows rolled up soured with mold and mildew. Some householders reported the mold and mildew growing in their water-soaked homes caused their eyes and skin to burn.

Hall said some people who had worked all their lives for their possessions stayed with their possessions and lost their lives.

Generators came into use immediately as people tried to save food stored in refrigerators and freezers.

Before any relief workers arrived in Poplarville, a gas station that was pumping gas with a generator saw long lines of people waiting with their gas cans for gasoline to operate their generators, he said.

“There is something about country folks and their ability to survive,” he noted.

City crews took pride in what they could do operating water pumps with generators to get potable water to the people.

Marshall County road workers cleared areas in small communities built along the Southern Railroad that Hall described as “little whistle stop towns” between Poplarville and Picayune. The town of Carriere was one name that stuck with him.

“Every rural fire station had ice supplies, water and military rations,” Hall said. “Counties were getting shipments of ice and delivering it in dump trucks to different areas.”

The Appalachian Regional Commission, which funnels federal dollars into 24 counties in Mississippi for infrastructure development and job creation hosted a fact-finding meeting at Three Rivers Planning and Development District in Pontotoc Friday to gather data and ideas concerning evacuee assistance in the area, Hall said.

“Some points mentioned by various local officials were the need for both long and short term jobs and housing, building trade short courses at community colleges, and medical help to meet both physical and psychological needs of evacuees,” he said. “Northeast Planning and Development District director Sharon Gardner suggested that A.R.C. expedite area projects to free up more jobs for evacuees.

Hall added that the board of supervisors in Pearl River County “offered much gratitude to their counterparts in Marshall County for the help.”

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