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Hurricane Katrina

Cherished isolation turns into a liability

Published September 4, 2005

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Storm Watch blog

PEARLINGTON, MISS. - The question here is no longer why. Not why this or why us. By now, almost a week after Katrina, the question is this: Where have you been? "Nobody's worrying about Pearlington," Stacey Bennett, 32, said Saturday morning.

Not the Federal Emergency Management Agency, she said.

Not the Red Cross.

"They haven't even mentioned Pearlington on TV," she said.

This is a particularly poor, rural part of what is largely a poor, rural state, and this tiny town with a population of about 1,600 is especially isolated: The Stennis Space Center is a buffer zone to the north and the east, the Pearl River is to the west, and there's nothing but marsh that runs out to the Gulf of Mexico to the south.

Isolation, folks here say, made for a nice, quiet place to live.

In the storm's aftermath, though, it also meant Pearlington was one of the last places to get help - even though the eye came up the river here that runs along the Louisiana and Mississippi border.

"We went days without anybody coming to see us," said Lori Fricke, 35.

Most of the folks from this town stayed at the Space Center during the storm, but some stayed behind - and not all of them have been accounted for.

There was one bar here, one grocery store, one post office and one cemetery. All the kids went to one grade school and then traveled 35 miles north to go to middle school and high school in Kiln. People here worked at the casinos, or the DuPont plant in nearby DeLisle, or they fished and shrimped on the river.

Rocky Pullman is the supervisor of District 2 in Hancock County, which includes Pearlington. He has lived here all his life, "and my dad lived here all his life," he said, "and his dad lived here, too."

Everybody knows everybody.

Eddie Bennett, Stacey's husband, said he has heard seven are dead. He started naming names.

Chad Ducote, 26, said four have been confirmed dead.

Pullman said two.

Donna Doyle, 25, said she has heard 25 people drowned in the gym at the school, but Eddie Bennett said that was a rumor.

"I've got to be careful in saying this," Pullman said a bit later off to the side, "but a lot of bodies haven't been recovered." He thinks a lot of the dead were swept into the river when the 20- to 30-foot storm surge retreated. A bus and a truck filled with food from Jacksonville-based Firehouse Subs left Florida on Thursday morning. The original plan was to feed the crew of Jacksonville firefighters helping in Pascagoula, all the way over by the Alabama border, but there was enough aid there. Same thing in Biloxi and Gulfport.

When they got to Waveland, though, a cop told them about Pearlington. They have nothing, the officer told them. Firehouse Subs arrived here late Friday morning.

On Saturday morning, the aid presence here was as big as it has been all week: state troopers from Florida, deputies from Leon County, an EMS crew from Walton County, firefighters from Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, and National Guard members from as far as California coming in on helicopters with water and food.

An Army helicopter landed, dropping down in an open field behind the twisted tin remnants of the West Hancock Fire Department.

Women held small children. Men formed a line 20-some strong to pass along over 150 cases of drinking water, 24 cans apiece. When that was done, the men shielded their eyes and waved, and the helicopter lifted off the scarred ground and departed what's left of this little corner of Mississippi.

[Last modified September 4, 2005, 01:22:09]

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