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Community plans Pearlington park

CARBONDALE – Pearlington – elevation 8 feet – was already a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town deep in the pine barrens of southern Mississippi, spitting distance from the Louisiana line on U.S. Highway 90 between the Gulf shore and Interstate 10.Today, one Roaring Fork Valley relief volunteer said you can drive through town without knowing you were ever there. Look closely, and you’ll see the tugboat left derelict in what remains of downtown Pearlington, where houses built on stilts stand gutted and naked with pine trees strewn around town like broken matchsticks and crushing through people’s moldy roofs. In August, Hurricane Katrina visited Pearlington and its 1,600 residents, drenching it with a 20-foot storm surge and laying waste to the entire place. After the storm, the town of Carbondale adopted Pearlington, sent it truckloads of supplies on a “Red Ball Express,” and donated an ambulance and manpower. Called “Mountains to Mississippi: The Pearlington Project,” people involved in the effort gave the community a progress report Tuesday night at Roaring Fork High School. “It was one of the most unique things I’ve ever done,” said Terry Mcshane, a project volunteer and member of the Carbondale Fire Department. The damage “absolutely floored me.”Mcshane spent two weeks in Pearlington cutting trees for 12 hours a day – more trees than he said he’d cut in seven years. Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper said she visited Pearlington a month ago to evaluate progress on the relief project and she said she saw “more than I ever imagined I would see.”The closer she got to the Gulf of Mexico, she said, she saw more and more of Katrina’s devastation. “I saw Mother Nature at its worst and then I saw human nature at its best,” she said. She said Roaring Fork Valley residents’ support of the project has made a real difference in Pearlington, where Carbondale Fire Chief Ron Leach said more than $100,000 of medical and school supplies, computers, tents and other donated goods were exactly what residents there needed. During a slide presentation of the relief efforts in Pearlington, Leach said Pearlington was like “Marble without the mountains” because of all the tall trees in the area. “This is still a pretty desperate situation,” he said, partly because many of the people in Pearlington don’t have the means to leave. “Carbondale, Colo., is a big deal in Pearlington,” he said, because residents there are so thankful for the Roaring Fork Valley’s help. Firefighters, medics and other valley residents have helped organize food distribution stations, spent countless hours cutting down mangled trees and otherwise donated their time to the relief effort. And now, Carbondale Fire Department Operations Head Tom Dalessandri said, the Pearlington Project is about to move into its next phase. Management of the project will soon transfer from the Carbondale Fire Department to the community. Donations will still be needed, he said. Project leaders will visit Pearlington periodically and help residents there decide what kind of help they need the most. Ultimately, Dalessandri said, project leaders plan to build a park in Pearlington to leave part of Carbondale’s relief efforts in Mississippi. “This park will live in tribute for years,” he said. It is slated to include a playground and a gazebo. Willard Clapper, Patti Clapper’s brother-in-law, said he wants the community to find a way to pay for the park. All ideas are welcome, he said. Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. 520bmagill@postindependent.com


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