Picayune and county residents reflect on a year of recovery

Published 6:40 pm Wednesday, August 30, 2006

In honor of all the hardships city employees and residents endured in the last year during and since Hurricane Katrina, the City of Picayune held a remembrance at the historic City Hall on Tuesday.

Many residents, both new ones and those already living here, had hardships to overcome in the days and months after the storm. One new resident moved to Picayune from California to help his children out since their home sustained damage, while a long-time resident endured the strong winds and rain inside his home.

Lee Raverty said he sold his home in California to move to Picayune about 15 days after the storm passed so he could help his children recover. Now he is making films of how the community is recovering after the storm, not the damage.

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“I don’t want to tell the story about the trees and buildings,” Raverty said.

Raverty said that when he first moved here he had to live in a Federal Emergency Management Agency travel trailer with his five dogs until he bought a home in Lumberton in late September of 2005. The homes of his children who live in the center of town were damaged severely, one suffered severe damage inside the home due to water invading the floor and walls, Raverty said.

“They lived in a house with no carpet, no drywall… everything was destroyed,” Raverty said.

Now Raverty is interviewing residents to produce a film comprised of resident’s experiences, with promotional ads placed in between each resident’s story to generate revenue he said he will donate to local churches.

City Councilman Leavern Guy was with his family in the Picayune area during the storm and spent the hours the storm lashed the city in a bathroom closet. As the storm was passing over his home, Guy said the roof began to flap off the structure, exposing the inside to the rain and scaring his family.

“I never felt so helpless in all my life when the roof started to flap and water started to come into the house,” Guy said.

After the roof began to give way allowing the rain to enter his home, Guy took his wife and daughter from the hall bathroom they were in to another bathroom of his home. Guy said he put a mattress in there so they could be comfortable while they rode out the rest of the storm.

During the eye of the storm, Guy said he had a chance to survey the damage to his home and land, which included a downed tree next to his vehicle and the roof and interior damage to the home.

The Picayune city councilman found even more to worry about after the storm when he found it hard to contact his sons who were attending the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. Guy said his sons left Hattiesburg for the storm but since cell and land line phone service were out, there was no way to get in touch with them. Guy said he and his family rode to Hattiesburg about three days after the storm when there still had been no word from his sons. When they arrived they found an empty house where his sons once stayed, Guy said. Believing his sons may be in Jackson staying with friends Guy said he and his family made their way there.

Just outside of Hattiesburg city limits cell phones began working. He was able to contact his sons who were safe and staying with friends as expected.

A year later Guy’s perspective on what happened is to keep moving toward the future, instead of dwelling on past events.

“I like to focus on where we’re going, we can’t forget where we came from but we have to focus on where we’re going,” Guy said.

The city of Picayune is looking to make use of their natural gas supply in future emergencies, and Guy said that the city is looking into providing natural gas to new developments in the city. Implementation of natural gas in housing developments means natural gas generators can keep critical needs going without the need for gasoline, a precious and rare commodity in emergencies, Guy said.

All city employees and residents dealt with downed trees, loss of power and scant availability of fuel. However, residents never had to deal with a lack of leadership or sewer and water during the months after the storm, said District Attorney Claiborne “Buddy” McDonald during the event Tuesday. Leadership in the form of more than just city officials was came forward, he said. Church leaders and neighborhood leaders were as important as city officials, he said.

The leadership from Picayune Fire Chief Keith Brown, Police Chief Jim Luke, Mayor Greg Mitchell, McDonald and Guy were acknowledged Tuesday, all of whom said they were proud of the city and the people who live here.

“This is the kind of place I want to live, this is the kind of place I want to raise my kids,” Luke said.

City leaders also welcomed new residents who migrated from other communities and have decided to stay to raise their children and make new lives in Picayune.

“A lot of people who stayed are going to make Picayune their home, and we’re proud of that,” Mayor Mitchell said.