Survivors find help in Gulf area floods

BY PJ HELLER | BILOXI, Miss. | September 29, 1998


BILOXI, Miss. (Sept. 29, 1998) -- Gulf Coast residents Tuesday began

assessing damages from Hurricane Georges as remnants of the storm continued

to dump heavy rain throughout the region.

Disaster response organizations also began surveying the area to

determine how best to help residents who were driven out of their homes by

the storm's fierce winds, torrential rains and severe flooding.

"I'm sure we'll have a couple of interfaith groups going," said Charles

Moeller of Luthern Disaster Response and a disaster response facilitator

with Church World Service. "I think some things will come together very

well."

Moeller was en route Tuesday to Mobile, Ala., to begin meeting with

faith-based organizations in an effort to organize an interfaith response

to the disaster. He also planned to travel into Mississippi and possibly

the Florida Panhandle.

Those relief efforts in Mississippi and Alabama are expected to be

spearheaded by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and the

United Methodist Conference.

"It's still early," he said. "We're trying to assess what's going on and

we'll go from there."

Two Church World Service disaster response consultants based in Arizona

were being sent to Louisiana and Mississippi to help in damage assessments.

Adventist Community Services, meantime, put out an appeal for donations

of personal care items including groceries, blankets, cleaning supplies and

bottled water.

Emergency management personnel in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and

Florida were also assessing damages from the storm, which was downgraded to

a tropical depression. President Clinton, who has declared major disasters

or emergencies in all four state, was scheduled to visit the area as soon

as recovery operations allowed.

Damage estimates along the Gulf Coast could reach into the billions of

dollars. In the Florida Panhandle alone, insurance losses were reported in

excess of $200 million. Georges was blamed for nearly 400 deaths, nearly

all of them in the Caribbean, where it left tens of thousands of people

homeless. Four storm-related deaths were reported along the Gulf Coast.

Even with Georges downgraded to a tropical depression with winds of 35

mph, the National Weather Service warned of heavy rains and the threat of

tornadoes over southern Alabama, the Florida Panhandle and parts of

Georgia. Power remained out to more than a quarter of a million residents.

At 10 a.m. (CDT), the storm was about 35 miles north-northeast of Mobile

and was moving to the northeast at 6 mph.

Some Gulf Coast communities, already hit with more than 2 feet of rain,

could get another 8 to 15 inches before the storm moves out of the area,

the weather service said.

"In some areas, there's water to rooftops and 4 to 5 feet of water in

many other homes," said George Touart, administrator in Jackson County,

Miss., after inspecting Pascagoula. "I've never seen anything like it in

more than 50 years."

"I've been here 20 years and it's the worst rain that I've ever seen,"

said Mark O'Brien of the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center in

Florida.

In Pensacola, Fla., continuing rains and winds were hampering relief

efforts, according to Steve Dick of the Salvation Army.

"Because the rains and winds are still at tropical force today and the

water is about 2 1/2 feet in a lot of places, we've been limited...in being

able to provide any more extensive services at this point," he said.

The organization was maintaining a shelter in the city, which has been

housing about 100 people since last Friday. It also set up a mobile feeding

unit Tuesday morning on Pensacola beach.

"We're just kind of limited in our ability to do anything extensive

until the rain stops and the water starts to recede," Dick said.

He said the shelter would remain open "until people are able to get into

their homes and the water recedes, which could be another couple of days."

Shelters elsewhere along the Gulf Coast remained open. Curfews began

being lifted as storm passed.

"It is still dangerous to travel on our streets and roads," said Linda

Rouse, director of emergency operations for Harrison County, Miss. She

advised residents to remain home or stay in shelters until further notice.

Even so, many roads throughout the Gulf Coast were jammed with traffic

as people who evacuated the area began making their way back home. Several

roads and highways remained closed due to flooding. A 25-mile section of

Interstate 10, the main east-west highway along the Gulf Coast, was closed

from Pensacola into Alabama because of flooding.

In Mississippi, Baptist Disaster Relief managed to bring its new

18-wheeler "feeding station" to Pascagoula. The mobile unit, parked at the

First Baptist Church, is capable of serving 20,000 meals at a time.

Paul Harrell of Baptist Disaster Relief said smaller mobile feeding

units were being sent to Gulfport and Biloxi.

Work teams were also being activated to assist in cleanup efforts, he said.

"We have one team going in today, several teams going in tomorrow

(Wednesday) and a lot of teams going in Friday and Saturday to help,"

Harrell said.

Georges made landfall near Biloxi early Monday and stalled about 20

miles north of the city, hammering Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and

Florida. Sustained winds of 105 mph and wind gusts of 175 mph were

reported.

Posted September 29, 1998


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