Katrina: The Lost Town of Pearlington - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Pearlington 09/04/2006

Katrina: The Lost Town of Pearlington

By: Marsha Thompson
        marsha@wlbt.net

On this anniversary of the hurricane, we take a moment to chronicle life after Katrina in Pearlington, Mississippi. The tiny bayou town remains one of the poorest in the nation. In the wake of Katrina residents were surrounded by death and destruction. Cut off from the world, survivors made it on their own for weeks.

High above the Pearl River, a house  marks witness to Katrina's unprecedented storm surge.   We asked Sea Tow Captain John Ludwig about the height of the storm as it moved inland over Pearlington.  According to Ludwig, "It got almost 28-30 feet if you notice there's a water mark on the bridge masters house, way up there that's incredible." Motoring up the Pearl River, we find little has changed in one year. Ludwig said, "The tide came in so high it sat that tug boat up on that piece of land. It looks like the boat is on a slab."

A tsunami- like wall of water roared inland drowning tiny Pearlington. 8 miles as the crow flies from the Gulf of Mexico.  Ludwig now spends his days fishing vessels from the waterway. "Since the storm, I've personally recovered about 260 units, and at one point we had a 13 team crew in here working with the Sea Tow company. We did over 860 units, that's only a small fraction." Katrina blew away people's lives, their livehoods in the bayou town of 1600 people. Cut off from rescuers they survived with little, for weeks on end. They all have stories to tell. They all fret an uncertain future. " Many have battled it for a year. They can't get their insurance companies to come through they can't find the jobs." Too much,  too long. And this area's not coming back," said Ludwig. " Things are just not easy here."  

Even officials admit the situation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast remains bleak the housing situation is poor, small businesses are desperately trying to keep their doors open. This one in Bay St. Louis closed. A bitter end for some. A trying revival for others. We found a woman in the back of C.J.'s Deli making breads, "These are fresh baked muffins." The owner Mary McLaurin says keeping her business afloat is a struggle. "People are not giving up . Slowly but surely we are coming back. We will never be the same." The have's and the have-not's recognize Katrina as a great equalizer.   Mclauren told us, "We're all in the same boat, I didn't matter if you had a lot of money, if you had a little or you were the big guy."

Back in Pearlington a sign with alligators marks the City limit. Eerily symbolic of a huge gator swept into a home during the storm. Once- forgotten Pearlington is now found. Volunteers flood the tiny town. Art Snow brought a crew of some 13 workers in from New York and New Jersey. He's been here twice helping people rebuild.   "Mass devastation, it's hard to believe things are still this way after a year. People from all across the nation are coming in to help residents. It was really a poor broken community." Signs of rebirth are taking place. But little is left. We watched residents wander up streets they were washed down, contemplating life as it once was and how it will be.

Edward Burnette stayed in Pearlington as the storm surge covered rooftops and 100 mile per hour plus winds blew down anything in the way. Reflecting on the current state of affairs Burnette said "Some people ain't got nothing yet, mightily slow way of doing it you understand, some people still waiting just like me."  He was referring to Government help.  Burnette says not much has been pumped into this area to help people get back on their feet.

Katrina's storm surge drowned four people in Pearlington. All but a handful of some 900 homes were destroyed.  Most  still live in government- issued trailers and likely will for months to come.

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