On-the-Ground in Pearlington - Jan. 10, 2006
Things are continuing to unfold in Pearlington and recovery is well underway. I am told there are hopeful signs everywhere and that the New Year has brought a renewed sense of cooperation and a more upbeat tenor to the community. More and more people are going back to work and things are generally starting to improve in some measurable ways.
The Charles B. Murphy Elementary school is still standing. Despite the school board informing the town that portions of it would be bulldozed in December, that has not happened. Apparently, they have until January 15th to do so, or lose their FEMA funding for that task. People have been in to “re-assess the damage” but no one knows what that really means. In November, Frank Nadell of the Carbondale Fire Department and I decided to clean the school as much as possible, to use as storage space and to restore as much of it as possible in an effort to change the perception that it was damaged beyond repair. Frank and his colleague Matt, in concert with many volunteers, did an outstanding job and let’s all pray that it changes the outcome.
The Pearl*Mart is still in operation and is being supervised by local Larry Randall. Laurie Spaschak, the former Red Cross Shelter Manager (late October/early November) has returned on her own time (dime) and is managing the Recovery Center. She has the computers up and running again, yet there is no phone or internet service there, nor in the vast majority of the town. Cell phones remain the only reliable form of communication from within and everyone’s cell phone bill is taking a beating. Paula Buhr was there recently doing some business with the Clinic and reports that both Larry and Laurie are doing an outstanding job.
There is one shower unit left and it is scheduled to be demobilized by the end of the month. There is still plenty of volunteer shelter, both in the former Library of the school and in adjacent rooms that we also cleaned out in November. The Red Cross food tent is still providing three squares a day. A woman comes in from FEMA once a week to deal with issues pertaining to the trailers and Laurie reports that she is functional and cooperative.
The Clinic, contrary to rumour, is not closed but it has undergone some evolution. It has been a difficult asset to hang onto and there are many political and even legal issues to consider. The long and short of it is that the materials there have been culled (there was enough for several clinics) and put aside safely by Paula (who brought much of it with her in early September) for an ongoing First Response Unit. There were many skids on the lot of medical supplies that were not appropriate for a Clinic; rather, they were supplies more suitable for a surgical unit or a hospital. These have now been removed. The Clinic will still be in operation two days a week - Tuesdays and Thursdays and locals will still be served in as generous a way as possible. Long-term volunteer staff there have had to cycle out for rest and so there will no longer we a daily presence possible there.
Current needs now call for a different kind of materiel: building, hardware and electrical supplies; hand and power tools, screws, nails, sheet rock, plywood, etc.
There are several issues to which our Coalition could address itself:
1) There is still NO postal service in Pearlington;
2) There is an urgent need for independent volunteer housing; some groups have expressed an interest in this. If you have money, resources and/or person power to contribute to this, please contact me and I will coordinate the effort. We are currently checking with MEMA - the state version of FEMA, who leases the field beside the school, to see if that would be suitable, available and constant enough a place upon which to build it. If our work is to continue, we cannot afford to be at the whim of local politics for safe housing.
3) There is an equally urgent need for safe storage. If valuable material is going to be shipped to town, to help in the rebuilding, I believe two things are mandatory: firstly, that there be a safe and independent location in which to store such material and secondly, that there be someone on site to receive, log, confirm receipt, manage and protect these resources. The chronic challenge persists: what does one do when there are 600 homes needing sheet rock, for example, and only 100 sheets of it? I question whether it is fair to ask a local to take that kind of pressure. Been there, done that a hundred times and it can be quite unpleasant and requires a degree of impartiality and fairness that I think only an outsider can be perceived to be capable of. All suggestions are welcome.
I will be in Pearlington on January 31 for a week. If you have needs I can address personally at that time, please let me know. With a slightly torn rotator cuff in my right shoulder (probably from straight-arming a 50-lb. tent in the haste of early September, or something) I’m not sure I’m much use as a labourer, but I do have other talents. I will do what’s needed.
I will be building on a Field Study started in early December by Paula Buhr, Eileen Powers and others. It would be great to know more precisely HOW many trailers are still needed, pumps, electrical etc. However, the situation there is constantly changing, as more people formerly in “exile” - that is, staying with relatives, in hotels and alternative housing - are returning to town all the time.
Thank you all for your participation in what is turning out to be a unique model of cooperation between a wide variety of groups with the wisdom and will to keep only the mission and a successful outcome in their hearts and minds.
“Canada Jon” White
P.S. Additional links have been added to this site and to the Report Card site, located at the Report Card blog - check them out!