Katrina + 10

‘Forgotten’ community of Pearlington still struggles

By WESLEY MULLER - wmuller@sunherald.com

The St. Thomas Catholic Church in Pearlington was washed away from the flood surge of Hurricane Katrina as it passed over their church which is located near the Pearl River by the Louisiana state line where the eye of the hurricane passed over on Monday August 29, 2005.
The St. Thomas Catholic Church in Pearlington was washed away from the flood surge of Hurricane Katrina as it passed over their church which is located near the Pearl River by the Louisiana state line where the eye of the hurricane passed over on Monday August 29, 2005. Sun Herald file

About 10 a.m. Aug. 29, 2005, Katrina made its third and final landfall -- directly on Pearlington.

The storm landed as a powerful Category 3, but brought record storm surges. Pearlington had taken a beating from winds and wave swells overnight as Katrina approached the southern tip of Louisiana at Category 4 and 5 strengths.

Up to 20 feet of storm surge then swept through Pearlington early that morning. Exact measurements are unknown because tide gauges failed and nearly all buildings in the area were destroyed, leaving few structures on which to identify still-water marks, according to a study by the National Hurricane Center.

Katrina claimed four lives in Pearlington.

It is believed only two structures were not destroyed, though they were heavily damaged.

Because Pearlington is an unincorporated town with no form of government, few official records exist.

Its residents refer to themselves as “forgotten,” and it’s not difficult to understand why. Little remains in Pearlington.

Aside from a community center built by volunteers in 2006, there are only three public buildings in Pearlington 10 years after the disaster -- a public library, a gymnasium and a county fire station.

The Pearlington Public Library stands where Charles B. Murphy Elementary School had been before Katrina. The community’s closest school now is South Hancock Elementary, about 15 miles away.

Pearlington librarians Andrea Pack and Debra Hill said not having a school anymore has been perhaps the most difficult challenge Katrina created.

“(School district officials) chose not to put it back,” Pack said. “We feel we are always left out.”

That lone school was the heart of the community and its loss has made rebuilding difficult, the librarians said.

Federal aid helped fund the library, a boat launch, some road improvements and a sewer-and-water system. Residents had previously relied on wells and septic systems.

Volunteers rebuilt most of the homes, Hill said.

“The government didn’t do anything,” she said. “That’s just how I feel. We’re pretty much on our own. Fend for yourself or you’re out of luck.”

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