First Responders: A Year Later - - Jackson, MS

Pass Christian 08/30/06

First Responders: A Year Later

By Howard Ballou

Shortly after Katrina made her historic arrival, WLBT joined the "Back Up the Badge" effort to help raise money for gulf coast first responders. Many of them lost everything they owned, but they stayed on the job. To date, "Back Up the Badge" has raised $500,000 for law enforcement and firefighters along the coast. In addition to cash donations, first responders and citizens on the coast have received more than $2-million in donated items such as patrol cars, uniforms, and weapons.

Last year, WLBT reported on a group of Pass Christian police officers whose plight caught national attention. Now, we check back in with them.

A year after Hurricane Katrina, Pass Christian police chief John Dubuisson says he still wakes up in a cold sweat. "It's been a couple of nights like that. Some of the things associated with that library. I mean there was 13 lucky people in that library.."

That library, the Pass Christian public library, almost became a watery tomb for the 13, including Chief Dubuisson. The department gained national attention when officers tried to shoot their way out as the waters rose.

Gloria Sanders was there. I asked her if she, too, has nightmares. "You are not the first person who's asked me that but in all honesty, I have not had any nightmares." Instead, it's more like headaches for her and many other gulf coast residents. "Trying to rebuild not only the communications center but trying to rebuild my own home has been exasperating at times."

Chief Dubuisson says his department still has needs, but the most pressing now are fresh vehicles and...  "manpower; men to replace the ones we've lost... crime; definitely, it's picked up quite a bit and most of it's property related crime, thefts...things like that...fraud. We've had quite a bit of fraud."

The Pass Christian police department was 28 members strong before Katrina. Now, one year later, they're down nine members; some of them too stressed out; others looking for greener pastures because they were just not confident about this city's future.

"There's things we had before the storm that, you know we'd like to replace and eventually, hopefully, we will be able to replace but that's gonna depend on future budgets.."

"I've already passed the nervous stage. It's a daunting task... ain't no doubt about that.." Chipper McDermot is the newly sworn mayor of Pass Christian. "A year later, we've got 1.5 cubic yards of debris been pulled out of here. We're clean and now we're waiting for people to rebuild and there's still a lot of uncertainty as to insurance and elevations."

Less than half of Pass Christian's 64-hundred residents have returned and so far, Walmart, a big piece of the tax pie, has not rebuilt here.  "So what we're doing now, we're surviving on what taxes we do get in and of course the federal government and state helping us with different things and that's where we are right now.. we're bridging the gap, hopefully."

"When you think about this whole area from Waveland to Ocean Springs and that are being wiped out, I'm tired of hearing about New Orleans." But Chief Dubuisson, Gloria Sanders and Mayor McDermot, like most gulf coast natives, haven't given up hope and all say they will not leave the place they call home. "It's gonna take time. It's gonna be a long, long time for recovery."

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