County has seen many changes since Hurricane Katrina

Published 7:00 am Friday, August 29, 2014

Today is the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s pass through Pearl River County.

The county saw a number of changes from the storm’s effects, which included dealing with days and weeks without power, increased traffic from the migratory population and long waits in line in order to purchase gasoline at the few stations that reopened immediately afterwards.

“We ended up with quite a few more people than we had, which is not always a bad thing,” County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin said.

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Before the storm came ashore, many residents living along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in New Orleans and neighboring St. Tammany Parish came to Pearl River County to ride out the storm.

Many took shelter in one of the many schools that were prepared to shelter those without a safe place.

Lumpkin said one of the obstacles experienced after the storm entailed finding a temporary shelter outside of the schools for those who lost their homes due to storm damage, so classes could resume.

Now, the county has three dedicated storm shelters, all 100 percent funded by FEMA funds. They are located at the Picayune High School, Pearl River County High School and the third sits next to the county Emergency Operations Center in Poplarville.

Three million dollars was used to build each shelter, Lumpkin said.

Dealing with the extra population was not the only hurdle for the county. While Pearl River County did not have to deal with storm surge, heavy winds and rain brought damage to several county buildings.

Lumpkin said the county courthouse suffered some roof damage, which also caused some damage to the inside of the building. A new roof has since been installed.

However, the old Chimney Square building on Goodyear Boulevard did not fare so well. Damage to that building was so severe it had to be torn down. A new building now stands on that site and provides many of the same services. Construction of that building came in at more than $5 million, with the county kicking in about $500,000.

A new Department of Human Services building was also funded through FEMA funds, which cost more than $3 million, of which the county paid about $500,000, Lumpkin said. It sits next to the county jail in Millard.

Damage to water and sewer infrastructure in the six coast counties prompted the state’s administration at the time to form regional utility authorities, but Stone County chose not to participate. The remaining five coastal counties were provided with grant funds that would lead to the construction of new sewer treatment plants in Picayune and Poplarville, along with new water systems outside of both municipalities and near Hillsdale.

Stricter building codes also came about as a result of the storm. Lumpkin said the new state-mandated building codes require houses to be built to withstand greater wind speeds.

While Lumpkin said he would rather not have to go through another major storm, he feels the county is better prepared due to the lessons learned from Katrina. 

“The biggest lesson learned is don’t expect the federal government to take care of you,” Lumpkin said. “You need to be able to take care of yourself for the first week.”

After Katrina federal aid did not arrive for at least a week in Pearl River County. However, a number of private organizations arrived sooner with water, ice and food. Still, there were long lines to obtain the coveted supplies.