View Full Version : Region struggles to regain control from Katrina

09-01-2005, 07:44 PM
Region struggles to regain control from Katrina

From Staff Reports
* Complete Local Coverage
* Hurricane Weather

Hurricane Katrina has claimed at least seven lives in Forrest County, the latest blow to a community struggling to regain its shaky footing in the aftermath of the worst storm ever to strike the nation.

?We don?t have any specifics on how they died,? said Melissa Massengill, public relations coordinator for the city of Hattiesburg and spokeswoman for the Forrest County Emergency Management District. ?We just know they were all storm related.?

In New Orleans, where city leaders continue to fight flooding from Lake Pontchartrain, officials fear thousands have died, an estimate that, if accurate, would make the storm the nation?s deadliest.

On the Mississippi Coast, at least 100 people died in Harrison County.

The Department of Homeland Security declared the hurricane an ?incident of national significance,? activating new powers for the first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to ease federal assistance. Ten mobile hospitals should arrive in the area within the next few days.

And it?s not over. The recovery has just begun.

Gov. Haley Barbour was set to have a 1:30 p.m. news conference today at either the Forrest County or Lamar County emergency operation centers to discuss relief and recovery efforts. Barbour toured both counties by air Wednesday.

President Bush said Wednesday the federal government has launched the most massive relief effort in history to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and that while thousands more victims still need to be rescued, help is on its way.

?We?re in a position where there are additional people we have to look for,? he said in an interview on NBC?s ?Today? show. ?We?re hoping to get the most people out as we can in the next 12 hours and 24 hours, but we?re going to continue to search until we?re sure we?ve got everybody safe.?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Department declared a public health emergency, setting in motion the arrival of medical supplies, hospital beds and public health officers.

An emergency generator failed early today at Forrest General Hospital, forcing the evacuation of the intensive care unit. Some patients were transferred to Wesley Medical Center. Forrest General, which faces a dwindling supply of food and water, on Wednesday had already starting moving some patients to hospitals in Jackson and Mobile, Ala., some to out-of-town hospitals and others to rooms in the tower portion of the hospital.

Pearl River Valley Electric Power Association restored service Wednesday to Wesley Medical Center in western Hattiesburg. Oliver expected normal power service at Forrest General today but other officials have said Mississippi Power Co. told them to expect a minimum of two weeks without power.

In other overnight developments
* Ice and water were to be distributed to the Lake Terrace Convention Center again today.

* Police reported customers lining up outside stores and gas stations before dawn; some reportedly spent the night.

* Some telephone service that was restored Wednesday has been inconsistent

* Garbage pickup will resume Friday in Hattiesburg where streets are passable.

At Camp Shelby, just south of Hattiesburg, the Pentagon has established a command center to direct the military?s hurricane relief effort. About 100 soldiers arrived at the camp from Fort Gillem, Ga.

And water service was restored to the city of Hattiesburg on Wednesday, even though customers were told to boil the water for two minutes before using it for drinking or cooking.

Cut off from outside
Still, the Pine Belt continued to reel from a lack of communication. Cut off from the outside world with sporadic cell phone and landline service, no electricity, no Internet and little gasoline, residents struggled for any morsel of information ? but little was found.

?You hear so much bad stuff that you want to see (proof of) it,? said Ashleigh Brewer of Hattiesburg.

Even when communications are restored, it will seem to some that the most important parts of the story will have already been told.

?I feel like by the time we get power, we won?t be able to see the stuff,? said Hattiesburg resident Don King.

Even those responsible for helping victims were unable to communicate effectively and, as a result, relief efforts appeared to be chaotic.

Four truckloads of ice sat in Meridian for two days without the drivers being told where to make the deliveries.

And the Forrest County Emergency Management District will only today begin posting information announcing when and where gasoline, ice, water and other necessary supplies are available.

Making the situation even more difficult was the influx of 1,500 out-of-town refugees, sent fleeing from their homes by Katrina?s savage fury. Some came to Hattiesburg to escape the storms. Some were headed to their homes and loved ones back in New Orleans and the Mississippi Coast, but could go no farther.

Their presence has increased the need for ice and water, safe, clean places to sleep, and food and medical supplies.

?We have people from New Orleans who are going to be here a while,? said Gerald Britt, director of the area?s largest Red Cross shelter.

?We came here as a jumping point and want to get home to see if we have a home,? said Connie Tarver, who with her husband, Randy, stopped in Hattiesburg on the way to their home in Gulfport.

Violence worsens
The disaster, which affected everywhere from the metropolitan New Orleans area east to Mobile, has captured the attention of the nation and the world ? with groups raising money to help fund what likely will be a long rebuilding effort.

Meanwhile, short supplies and unbearable heat have caused tensions throughout Mississippi and Louisiana that have led to violence.

In New Orleans, Mayor Ray Nagin ordered 1,500 police officers to leave their search-and-rescue missions and return to the streets to stop looting that has turned increasingly hostile as the city plunges deeper into chaos.

In Hattiesburg, police arrested Antonio Page, 35. Police Chief David Wynn said that Page shot his sister in the head with a small caliber handgun and killed her during a fight over a bag of ice.

It was unclear if her death was included in the seven storm-related deaths.

On Monday, the same day the storm struck Mississippi and the Pine Belt area, Mississippi National Guard Sgt. Josh E. Russell, 27, of Petal died when his vehicle struck storm debris on Interstate 59.

The incident is under investigation.

?This is another sad moment for the citizens of Mississippi,? Barbour said in a news release issued Wednesday. ?Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and we continue to pray for our soldiers who are on duty during this time of crisis in our state.?

Debris burning banned
City officials expected an update about 9 a.m. today on restoration of electricity and telephone service.

Massengill warned residents not to burn storm debris or gather around bonfires.

?That is not going to be tolerated,? she said ?You can?t burn in the city limits and we will start ticketing if it starts becoming a problem.?

On Wednesday, workers continued to remove tree limbs from streets and home across the Pine Belt. And residents crowded stores looking for ice, water and other necessary supplies.

More ice and water was to be delivered to the Lake Terrace Convention Center today, disaster supplies and relief workers arrived at the Salvation Army and more personnel and equipment were en route for the American Red Cross.

?It just takes time to get equipment and personnel relocated,? said Harry Hutchinson, disaster services manager for the South Central Mississippi American Red Cross chapter. ?We?ve requested additional staff personnel to do damage assessment and run shelters.?

Help is coming from all across the country, he said.

?This is untypical of disasters,? he said. ?Normally they stay within the southeast region. They?re going to national because this is so big.?

Three tractor-trailer rigs of ice and three of water are to be distributed at the Lake Terrace Convention Center, Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree said.

?That will happen every day until we call and tell them we don?t need it anymore,? he said.

At the Red Cross shelter in the James Lynn Cartlidge Forrest County Multi Purpose Center, about 900 people remained Wednesday ? although the numbers fluctuate.

Some evacuees returned home, but others have had to rely on the shelter because they ran out of gas in Hattiesburg. And with power out across much of South Mississippi, gas stations were unable to pump fuel.

Gasoline sales resumed Wednesday at some stations where power was restored or generators arrived but those at the shelter didn?t have reliable information on where they could buy gas and didn?t have enough fuel to drive around town.

Police reported customers spending Wednesday night outside the U.S. 98 Wal-Mart SuperCenter and Sam?s Club and lines forming before dawn today at gas stations along U.S. 49 north of Interstate 59.

Emergency officials will update the news media today when stores begin selling gasoline and when a location has exhausted its supply. Massengill will also notify the media when ice and water distribution points are in operation.

Water plant on line
In Hattiesburg, Water Plant 2 came back on line on generator power and three wells also are running on generators. Water service was restored throughout the city but pressure will probably remain lower than normal until midday Friday.

?We have to get water on the lines to discover where the breaks are,? said Bennie Sellers, public services director. ?We?re isolating the breaks.? He asked residents to use water sparingly until the system returns to normal.

Garbage pickup in Hattiesburg will resume Friday on streets that are passable, Sellers said. Residents whose streets remain blocked will have to take their garbage to a street where crews can reach it and it must be in heavy bags or cans, he said.

Maj. Dawn Heard reported the Salvation Army had prepared and served 15,438 meals and drinks, 312 cups of coffee and 8,931snacks from Sunday night through noon Wednesday. Additional personnel have arrived from Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Georgia and others are en route, and truckloads of food are on the way, she said. Two truckloads from Operation Blessings, a 700 Club program, already have arrived.

For now, the Salvation Army has enough volunteers.

?We may need more help later,? she said. ?As we set up more feeding stations, we will.?

The Red Cross needs volunteers and the evacuees at the shelter are running out of towels, wash cloths, underwear, extra-large T-shirts and personal hygiene items, said Raylawni Branch of Hattiesburg, a registered nurse and volunteer.

American Staff Writers Janet Braswell, Erin Hilsabeck, Antoinette Konz and Natasha Smith contributed to this report.

Originally published August 31, 2005

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