Friday, August 04, 2006

A Week on the Coast in Pearlington ... Adam Daniel

Pearlington: The Lost Town
Alright, I'm back from my excursion down on the coast in Pearlington. Talk about a trip! Pearlington is right on the coast, and the Mississippi/Louisiana border. It's a small town of no more than 1,500 people, and was completely wiped out.
I got a really cool story of living at the Pearlington Recovery Center and becoming a volunteer for seven days. Little did I know that Pearlington has many problems that other towns along the coast are not facing.

When I arrived I was taken back that the town looks in a condition of about two months after the hurricane! I met up with Laurie Spaschak the Director of the volunteer center and learned that it has been an uphill battle for these folks. Working for a state government agency I felt frustrated with the lack of government support on the national, state, and even local levels.

I met people who had just gotten into FEMA trailers not two weeks prior in June or July. Some were still living in tents. I also met people that the regulations and rules ended up hurting their everyday lives. One woman could not use the bathroom in her trailer because her new home had just been put on a foundation. Since plumbing had not yet been hooked up to it she had to use her sister’s trailer just for water! One man, who was a WWII vet and a police officer for 50 years lost everything, used a cane and they had to fight FEMA to get him a handicapped trailer.

Now I’m not blaming the government agencies for their work. They’ve had their work cut out for them during this crisis. But the general distain for government in Pearlington is quite high because of the lack of effort after a year, especially since they are seeing Biloxi and Gulfport getting the aid.
On the plus side though, Pearlington has a high influx of volunteer work coming from other states. While I was there I tagged along with two church groups, Wesley United Methodist Church from Mason City, Iowa, and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church from Ankney, Iowa. They did everything from installing drywall, roofing, construction, plumbing, and a ton of other projects in Pearlington that was quite helpful.

Laurie the Director of the Recovery Center was great. She gave me a lot of interesting projects to do. I was able to meet local residents who all had interesting stories to tell. Even though I was able to help out for only a week I felt like I had made a difference in someone’s life.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Returning Home... Katie Savage

Beyond Katrina and Mississippi Outdoors Producer
Katie Savage

I’ve lived on the coast all my life. That’s home- Biloxi, Gulfport, the Pass, the Bay. They are all one place to me. Going from Pascagoula to Waveland was like going across town. I moved to Jackson to work for MPB only two years ago, leaving the coast reluctantly behind. I avoided going back down for most of those two years because I knew how much I would miss it. Oddly enough, I needed to go down just three weeks before Katrina struck and it was the first time I drove down Highway 90 since I left it and ironically, I looked at what had changed and what hadn’t. I stayed in a nice little hotel right on the beach in Biloxi. It’s not there anymore as is most everything else.

As a freelance photographer, I went back down to the coast just two days after the storm and spent more than a week trying to photograph what wasn’t there anymore. I pulled my truck over to the side of the crumbled concrete of what was Highway 90 and walked a block back to 2nd Street in Gulfport. 2nd Street had always been a desirable part of the coast to live. It was a row of older homes, not necessarily big homes, but homes that gave you an idea of what it was like to live there 200 years ago. Homes your grandmother lived in when you were growing up. As I climbed over piles of still wet lumber, hearing the hiss of open gas lines, maneuvering around trucks piled on top of one another, crawling under power lines, and thinking I must be crazy, I noticed I hadn’t come to 2nd Street yet, at least not when I thought I should have. Then my heart sank when I realized I was standing right on it, I just couldn’t see it for the pile of what was left of those charming old homes.

When I went back down nine months later to shoot one of my stories for Beyond Katrina, I had some time to kill in between interviews. I remembered that just a few months earlier on 2nd Street, the debris was still pretty bad so I thought we would go down there and shoot a little. We stopped at the one house that was being rebuilt. We stopped to shoot it mostly because the owners had a little makeshift doghouse in the yard and had printed on the side “FEMA Dog House”. As we stood shooting, two men came walking briskly towards us. I thought for sure they were going to give us a hard time for shooting there. We began talking and I found out they lived next door and across the street and wanted to make sure we weren’t there trying to steal anything. I finally got Mike Spencer to agree to give me an interview. He told in great detail how he rode out the storm. Watching the east side of his house wash away in one piece, his stove chasing him, the beam that pushed him through to the back of the house, how he finally climbed out of the house and onto a tree. He said that tree was the only thing that kept the rest of his house from floating away. He told me how he reached over and patted his home, and how glad he was that tree withstood his house running into it because he was hanging onto the last remaining branch. The tree still stands with orange ribbons wrapped around it now.

Mike held back the tears as he told me his story, he had told it so many times yet he still couldn’t get through it without having to pause, his neighbor Bill won’t even try. It wasn't so much the storm itself, he stated, but all the “stuff” afterwards. For a lot of coast residents, just having someone to tell their story to is a big help. What is surprising is that these people are still going through so much and maybe even more, now almost a year later, than they were right after the storm. If you live on the coast, hurricanes are nothing new. You deal with the after-effects for a few weeks,… not a few months or a few years. Adding insult to the worse kind of injury is the low-life from the rest of the country coming down under the pretense of helping and end up stealing what little these people have left or have managed to accumulate since the storm. How do you deal with the anger from that on top of the anger you’re already feeling? Don’t get me wrong, for those legitimate volunteers, I’ve heard so many times from Katrina victims how grateful they are and how they could not make it with out them and how much hope it gives them in such a hopeless situation just to have people who care and really want to help.

When we asked Mike what good had come out of all this, he turned and pointed to his FEMA trailer, “That right there, it has hard walls….” Mike had been living in a tent up until a month ago.

Trying to remain strong for their family and friends, never expecting to have to have so much patience and strength to last a year, most coast residents are just now starting to realize that this is something that they will have to deal with for a very long time. As time does go by, the coast slowly heals but it will take even longer for those that live there and love it so much to finally get some kind of satisfaction, if they can. It’s hard to heal when you are living in a place that is so familiar and yet isn’t anymore, not just physically but emotionally.

Mike was just grateful that day for his trailer, the sun, the breeze from the water and his neighbors to talk to. He and Bill asked that you not forget them; they are still hurting and still living in their trailers just a block off the beach on 2nd Street and it’s still to them a desirable place to live.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Growing up in the Hurricane Culture... Thomas Broadus

Thomas Broadus
Web Admin

Well, here it is just around the corner. Hurricane Season is looming closer and closer and while it will officially start June 1, 2006, and will last until November 30, 2006, many people in Mississippi never got out of hurricane mode.

I grew up in a little town called Pascagoula, smack dab on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I lived on Martin Street, which just a little further down the road turns into Beach Blvd, so one could say I am a tried and true coast rat, born and raised in the hurricane culture. Our home was rebuilt from Camille, survived Fredrick, and was again rebuilt from Elaina. We actually got caught in our home during Elaina and this was the first time I remember seeing a true hurricane up close and personal. Ripped roofs, collapsed car ports, flooded rooms and lost memories were all par for the course with these storms.

Time passed and people rebuilt, and again complacency grew between every storm. I remember having hurricane parties, and yes Dominoes did deliver pizzas during a cat 1 storm to my buddy Steve Byrd’s porch. Going down to the Point to check out the weather channel vans and to watch the waves role in was so common, the traffic would be thick with rubber neckers. Also commonplace was boarding and taping up the windows, securing the swing sets, getting batteries and water… all the things you do out of habit. Though even doing all these things I never felt an urgency deserving of these powerful storms.

Then came Katrina. Many or most people who lost homes in Pascagoula are still without. The people in the city are still living in FEMA trailers in their lawns while blue tarps line the neighborhood roofs. All the time this date looms closer June 1, 2006.

I don’t think complacency will set in this year on the coast or anywhere else this season.
But I have to think, at what point will it set in? How many years will it take for people to begin to underestimate these storms again?

Hopefully with our media collection on MPB Online, we’ll be able to remind people how deadly and dangerous these storms are. If you haven’t, please go take a look at the video and photo gallery section over at

And thank you to everyone who has shared their story with MPB, we are proud to be able to let your voice be heard.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Everything's Gone - The Gulf Coast flyover 6 months later ... Gene Edwards

Gene Edwards
Deputy Director of Content Operations

It’s been interesting to read comments from viewers about our trip. Many quite surprised that it looks so much like it did just after the storm. As a reporter, I’ll never forget being at “ground zero” when a huge tornado struck a trailer park in Brandon, Mississippi a few years ago…this trip was even more unbelievable. Especially when you listen to Coyt talking about what it was like just after the storm. He and Joe were pretty brave to head out that morning with no idea what they might find…and faced with the fact that they might not be able to refuel on their way home.

One of the most amazing things we saw was the boat that had been dropped down amongst the trees. The trees were not damaged! The boat had to come in from above the trees. From the air you also get a much better sense of the “brown line”. In many places the gulf water came more than a mile up onto the land. It’s also tough to see so few signs of activity and rebuilding. Really drives home the totality of the destruction and makes you understand that it’s going to be a very long time before anything seems normal down there again.

Visit MPB Online and view the clip

Thursday, March 23, 2006

First Beyond Katrina Assignment ... Edie Greene

Edie Greene
Television Production

When I received my first Beyond Katrina assignment, I decided to make a trip south. I’m not a coast girl, and I needed a site survey to understand the new lay of the land. “Be prepared,” my colleagues told me. I thought I was. After all, I’ve worked in television a long time and covered all sorts of disasters. So many times, I had experienced horror all around me when my camera only had tunnel vision. So many times, I had watched as families lost everything. So many times, I had chronicled grief. As it turns out, I braced for destruction but found something much more powerful.

I rode around the coast with Robert Renfroe, a thoughtful, educated young man who works for the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Services. For several months, Robert ran the Mississippi Volunteer Hotline in Jackson. In January, Robert assumed the duty of coordinating volunteers on the coast. Robert took me to camps where the volunteers sleep in tents and shower outdoors. Robert took me to sites where volunteers were removing debris and rebuilding homes. Robert pointed out how the damage increased as we drove further west.

Then Robert took me to the Hancock County EOC. That’s where he introduced me to Joe Williams. Joe worked in a management position before Katrina claimed both his job and his home. He began volunteering, taking ice and provisions to people. Now he coordinates volunteers and donations for the county. He uses his management skills to analyze both needs and services and in the most positive way, Joe tasks them out every day. As soon as we opened the door, almost before we set foot in Joe’s arena, I could feel his aura. Joe smiles all the time. He empowers everyone around him with his infectious energy.

Later, Robert and I stopped for a quick sandwich. As we ate, we reviewed what I had seen. I was overwhelmed not by the destruction around me but by the humanity, the positive outlook and ever-present smiles. How could these people who had lost so much and were working so hard in such adverse conditions, how were they maintaining this attitude? “Everything down here is amplified right now,” Robert advised. People could work 80 hour weeks, month in and month out, but still could be upbeat because they are helping. In my entire life, I had not been in a situation where the simple human emotions had been so strong, so pervasive, so enduring. I found it a powerful experience

We spoke about Joe. Robert said that some people look at disaster and see despair. Joe looks at disaster and sees opportunity. I suspect that Robert could look in the mirror and say the same thing about himself.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Six Months After Katrina... Andy Williamson

Six Months After Katrina
By Andy Williamson

It’s hard to believe it’s been more six months since hurricane Katrina hit the Mississippi gulf coast. It’s been amazing to see how much progress has been made already, but, there is still so much more work we need to do before the coast and it’s people can fully recover.

When Katrina hit, I was here at M. P. B. studios in Jackson helping produce overnight radio. We were trying to help the thousands of evacuees listening across the state about the latest traffic conditions, where to find gas, and how to get to the few hotels in the state that still had vacancies. We took a lot of phone calls and all the while kept tabs on Katrina’s every move. We had 100 mph winds here, and as I looked out the window from time to time, I could only imagine what it must have been like on the coast.

Eight days later, Adam Daniel, Randy Kwan, and I got a chance to see what it was like for ourselves. The damage was shocking. We camped out for three days at the E.O.C in Gulfport along side hundreds of folks from as far away as Alaska and New York who came down to help out. During that time, we shot a great deal of High Definition video and took lots of still pictures from Ocean Springs to Bay Saint Louis. Randy even got to shoot areal footage as he rode along in a Ms. National Guard helicopter, but, as clear and descriptive as those images were, they still could not grasp what it was like to actually be there.

I remember Adam and I shooting video of the huge Grand Casino barge lying on top of Highway 90 on an early Thursday morning. We saw tractor trailers twisted like pretzels, debris everywhere, and waded through thousands of empty Mazzola corn oil containers to get shots of what was left of the houses on 12th street in downtown Gulfport. The whole experience seemed almost surreal in the way that the destruction was so bad that it was difficult to orient yourself because nearly everything you remembered along Highway 90 was simply gone. What once was a beautiful coastline, looked like a bomb had gone off and nothing was recognizable any longer.

We were able to drive down Highway 90 a little way to tape more video, but, that proved to be an adventure in itself. The road was buckled in many places and completely gone in others. Mile after mile all we saw were so countless concrete slabs where houses once stood. What trees were still standing had twisted metal, clothes, and plastic wrapped around them making the whole area look like something out of your worst nightmare. Seeing all this made our thoughts and prayers quickly turn to the people who once called the coast home.

When we reached Bay Saint Louis and stood next to what was left of the Highway 90 bridge. We and walked through it’s once beautiful downtown, and the affect of it all was enough to literally take your breath away. I found myself at a loss for words when I tried to describe what we had seen to Gene Edwards during a live radio interview later that morning.

A lot has changed since then. During those six months, I have been producing gardening stories for the Beyond Katrina program with Felder Rushing and Dr. Dirt from M .P. B.’s Gestalt Gardener radio show. Each time we shoot a story on the coast, we always try to look for positive. The people and the environment took quite a hit, but, both are a lot more resilient than you might expect, and some times the things you get to see can inspire us all. The sight of sunflowers blooming among the ruined beachfront houses in Biloxi was a perfect example. (See the video of this here) It taught us that no matter how bad things may have gotten, nature, and the good folks on the Mississippi gulf coast will find a way to come back and thrive again.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Blue Tarps... Adam Daniel

Adam Daniel
Blue Tarps/Gotcha Covered

When I was given the opportunity to produce this story I was initially under the impression that tarps were falling apart everywhere and that FEMA had dropped the ball. It wasn’t until we went down South of Hattiesburg did I start to realize that most of the complaints were blown out of proportion. Walking along the streets of Wiggins and Biloxi the videographer Jeremy Burson and I noticed that every home that had the reinforced plastic tarps on them were visibly in perfect form. In fact, we had to look quite hard to find a FEMA labeled tarp that was falling apart. We eventually found one that spelled FEMA and was not reinforced.

Everyone we talked with were quite supportive of the condition of their roofs. It seemed like people were making the best of it.

To me the houses that did have tarps that were tattered and in rough condition were not the same color as the FEMA tarps. In fact, most looked like the tarps that you buy at the hardware store. I’ve used those before for various other things, and I know from experience that they do not strand well in the weather.

While talking with Colonel Anthony Vesay of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, we were shown some interesting information about the extent of the Blue Tarp Initiative. The farther North and East you went along the coast the more houses required their assistance. He stated that that was because those houses didn’t have to face the full power of the hurricane and were left standing with at least 50% of their roof to cover.

He also showed us the form that each homeowner was required to sign to show that the job had been completed on their roof. He then showed us a line in the form that clearly states that these tarps are for temporary solutions and that they do not stand behind it after 30 days from installation. He also showed the number of redo or call-back jobs that they had to fix. To me this was the final bit of information that debunked my original perceptions.

Later, I also had a telephone interview with All American Poly (www. the manufacturers of FEMA’s blue tarps that was not included in my segment. They said that they supply three different types or weights of tarps ranging from lightweight unreinforced, to one that a 200 lb. man could walk across when stretched out. They rated their products to last 2 years under optimal conditions. Since we don’t live in optimal conditions here in Mississippi, I suggest everyone to go get their roof fixed.