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Help Flows to Flood-Ravaged Mississippi Town

A statue of the Virgin Mary is the only thing remaining of the Catholic church in Pearlington, Miss.
Howard Berkes, NPR
A statue of the Virgin Mary is the only thing remaining of the Catholic church in Pearlington, Miss.

When Hurricane Katrina hit Pearlington, Miss., three people drowned and virtually every home was destroyed or badly damaged. The 2,200 people who lived there were overwhelmed by how quickly the floodwaters rolled through their community. Only three homes out of 900 were left untouched. It appeared a town that was barely on the map might disappear completely.

Then news reports put Pearlington in the national spotlight. Help began pouring in from around the nation. And relief supplies continue to arrive at a phenomenal pace.

Now, seven weeks after the storm changed everything, volunteers and townspeople alike are involved in organizing and distributing needed supplies, from underwear and food to chainsaws and bleach. A Red Cross official estimates there are 80 tons of supplies inside the local distribution center, with 20 tons a day going out.

Most of those goods are stacked and sorted on custom-built shelves at the middle school gym, a location the locals have dubbed "Pearlmart" since it resembles a discount store. Ice and water are available at a drive-up tent in the parking lot. There's a dining tent serving hundreds of meals a day, and a makeshift medical clinic.

Longer-term prospects are far more complicated. Hundreds of people living in tents are waiting for travel trailers promised by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And many local wells were contaminated during the storm.

But at least one town leader feels that the town and its residents will stay and rebuild... even though he foresees "many years" of hard work to overcome the devastation.

"I think we have deep roots in this community," says Rocky Pullman, a tugboat captain who also serves as a Hancock County supervisor. "I think our roots are spread deep in the soils here and we're not gonna leave just because we got devastated by this hurricane..."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.