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Mississippi Town’s Speedy Hurricane Clean-up Attributed to Local Workers

Wed February 01, 2006 - Southeast Edition
CEG



LUCEDALE, MS (AP) Manilla Street resident Bill Parker spent a recent afternoon on his roof sealing nailed-down blue plastic tarps with duct tape.

“The wind is what caused the damage here. It was just that it went all day, where [Hurricane] Ivan lasted only two hours,” he said.

His taping down of edges and corners may be a patch on a patch, but it’s the best he can do. Pallets of pink-wrapped shingle bundles dot his yard, but they’ll have to sit until his roofer has time.

Lucedale, a city of 2,458 in a hilly section of George County on Mississippi’s eastern edge, was spared the worst of Katrina. Now, more than three months hence, the city has practically cleaned up from the storm.

Blue plastic roof covers on a scattering of buildings, a few damaged awnings and some shattered roadside commercial signs are the only evidence of Katrina. Above prim lawns and quaint streets, lighted Christmas ornaments hang from utility poles and nary a scrap of debris lines the curbs.

“I believe it was three businesses and four houses that were destroyed when trees fell on them,” Mayor Dayton E. Whites said.

Lucedale, 45 minutes north of Pascagoula, was settled in the late 1800s by people who moved east from the Pascagoula River to escape the flood plains, Whites said. The municipality was incorporated in 1901.

During Katrina, the city’s topography helped avoid flooding from the drenching rain, Whites said.

Whites, a retired physician, turned over his City Hall office to the Federal Emergency Management Agency representative assigned to the city. He attributes the city’s quick recovery to officials’ decision to bid debris removal to private contractors. George County, which had much more debris, went with a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contract through FEMA and is still clearing debris.

“We had local people do the cleanup. We negotiated a price of $7.56 a cubic yard [of debris]. They even went back and raked,” Whites said.

The cost is reimbursed by FEMA, and Lucedale’s price is about half what many municipalities paid private contractors. Those using the corps don’t have to pay.

Lucedale Public Works Director Lavelle Henderson said cleanup ended Oct. 28.

“We burned it all at the city-owned recycling site. A crew of ours went out after the contractor. We’ve still got a couple stumps, but there’s nothing hardly left,” he said.

The area’s major agricultural product is timber; more than three quarters of the county’s 400-sq.-mi. is devoted to forest products. And with all the trees down, the industry has been busy.

After the storm, Johnny Busby pulled himself away from his job as a timber buyer to clear and haul fallen trees for private landowners.

“I couldn’t work for all the people coming up to me wanting to be put on my list. I’d work till dark and when I got home, I had a list of calls to get through. A lot of it was in subdivisions in Lucedale,” he said.