City credits teamwork for success in battling Winter Storm Leon

Published 7:00 am Saturday, February 1, 2014

REMOVING SAND: Tommy Hart, superintendent of streets and drainage in the Public Work Department, drives a small front end loader to scoop up the sand and salt the city put on the U.S. Highway 11 bridge over Hobolochitto Creek.  Photo by Will Sullivan

REMOVING SAND: Tommy Hart, superintendent of streets and drainage in the Public Work Department, drives a small front end loader to scoop up the sand and salt the city put on the U.S. Highway 11 bridge over Hobolochitto Creek.
Photo by Will Sullivan

Teamwork, said three of the men who led the fight to keep city streets and roads open and passable during the recent winter storm that struck Picayune, Pearl River County and much of the rest of the Deep South.

“The devotion and teamwork is just one great example of why I’s so proud to call Picayune my hometown,” said City Manager Jim Luke.

That team included city workers, the police department, the fire department, city department managers, the city’s residents, the media and even the Mississippi Department of Transportation, said Keith Brown, the city fire chief and emergency operations manager.

His listing of the team’s members was echoed by Luke and city Public Works Director Eric Morris on whose department and employees much of the hard work fell.

None of the men had an estimation of how much money the battle cost, but said the city and county were still under an emergency declaration and that one reason for emergency declarations was to allow the local governments to receive at least some money from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help pay the costs of such emergency battles.

The battle lasted two days and two nights, but on Thursday, the city began to cleanup after the struggle.

A Public Works crew was out at the U.S. Highway 11 bridge over Hobolochitto Creek, an especially critical battle front, on Thursday picking up and sweeping off the sand and salt that had been used to allow motorists to travel over the bridge.

That night, the crews also added sand and salt to the railroad overpass on Mississippi Highway 43 North, the bridge over Hobolochitto Creek on that highway and Long Bridge on Beech Street, also over Hobolochitto Creek, Morris said. He said that night the battle was pretty continuous with having to handle the barriers and the sanding and salting.

Luke said the very light traffic around Picayune and the county during the hours of the storm shows how local residents and the media acted as part of the team.

“I want to express my gratitude to the hardworking city employees and to the public for their patience and staying off the roads,” Luke said. He said he is grateful to the media for getting out the message on all sources from web pages to Facebook.

“I wish we had had this during Katrina. I would travel from (the county EOC) in Poplarville to the radio station and by the time the word got out over the radio and in the newspaper, it was already old and by that time useless,” Brown said.

Another example of good communications during this event was the cooperation between the city and the MDOT to handle bridges in Picayune for which the transportation department is normally responsible, Morris said.

Morris said MDOT is responsible for road surfaces and bridges on both state and federal roads, but, with the cooperation of the MDOT, the city took over covering those bridges during the “very unusual” winter storm that struck the area. The state transportation department had been overwhelmed by the scope of the storm, especially south of Hattiesburg.

Morris said that following a deadly wreck Friday night on the U.S. Hwy. 11 bridge during a bout of winter weather that surprised everyone, he thought there had to be a better way of spreading sand than dumping it out of a truck. He said the city began preparing immediately for the winter storm that had been forecast.

For the storm that began hitting during the day on Monday, he enlisted spreader buggies that are towed behind a truck and two three-point hitch fertilizer spreaders were enlisted to distribute the salt. Morris said Circle T feed store in Poplarville helped with the spreaders and also sold the city the five tons of salt used on the bridges.

Morris said he plans to find a source of a coarser salt to use during any other winter storm that strikes. The salt the city purchased from Circle T was a fine grain salt.

Brown agreed. “It was a team effort and you can’t do it without the dedicated employees. The mayor (Ed Pinero) was on top of everything,” he said.

Both he and Luke said the mayor and council were in constant touch with the emergency team and they also thanked the media for getting out the information the public needed to follow events and find out about the curfew in a timely fashion on electronic media.