Town still reeling from Katrina 

Residents, city officials and police in San Carlos’ adopted town of Pass Christian, Miss., are still living and working out of portable trailers 17 months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast city, according to members of a recent local delegation.

To date, San Carlos officials, service organizations and schools have sent more than $125,000 in aid to the Gulf Coast city, as well as gifts and volunteers, but the need for help continues, officials said.

"What I saw was the need to rebuild — churches, civic buildings, schools, roadways and infrastructure. Their sewer lines are still above ground," said San Carlos City Councilman Matt Grocott, who returned Tuesday night from a long weekend in Pass Christian. The Interstate 90 bridge is still out,and Wal-Mart, once a major source of tax revenue for the city, won’t return until it’s back, he said.

Cleanup alone took nearly 14 months. In the process, more than 1.5 million cubic yards — two football fields stacked 150 feet high — of debris was hauled away, said Pass Christian Alderman Lou Rizzardi, who hosted Grocott’s visit. Before Katrina, the city had 6,800 residents. Now, it has roughly 2,500.

In the months after Katrina, donations and unskilled volunteers poured into the city to help with cleanup. Now, what Pass Christian needs are skilled workers — people who can install sheetrock, electricity and ventilation systems — so that new buildings can be made to code, Grocott said.

Donations of money and gift cards, such as the Home Depot cards that helped residents purchase water heaters, are also helpful, according to Sheryl Pomerenk, chairwoman of the San Carlos Chamber of Commerce.

Back at home, the Peninsula Humane Society/SPCA recently found a home for the last of 66 pets it took in shortly after Katrina left thousands of animals stranded, according to director Ken White. Of those, only two were euthanized because they were too sick to survive — the rest were reunited with families or placed in new homes.

Garnering aid for hurricane victims a year and a half later is an ongoing challenge.

"In the American psyche, we don’t have a lot of attention span," Rizzardi said.

However, Rizzardi added that it’s heartening for cities like San Carlos to adopt Pass Christian. "It’s good to know that folks will be willing to make the long-term commitment, because it will take years for us to come back."

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Beth Winegarner

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