‘From sun up until we couldn’t see’

Published 9:43 am Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of columns reflecting on the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina in the local area.

It took going upstairs and watching through the window, seeing what 100-mile-per-hour winds do to a backyard full of oaks, for me to realize Katrina had truly come to town.

Granted, I’d had an inkling that something big was happening the day before, when we were driving home from Jackson and it seemed that everyone else on the interstate was headed in the opposite direction. But if I’m honest, it wasn’t until I saw that lone hickory doing calisthenics over the roofline that I got a real clue.

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Of course, memories of the day the storm made land fall just 140 miles away in Pearlington are different for everybody. Some people can tell you how much food they lost in their freezer. Some recall televised images of folks clinging for life on flooded house tops. Others describe the emptied bread racks at every grocery store in town. My son, however, prefers to put it in his (then) eight-year old perspective: “I didn’t have to do spelling that day.”

Sadly, other children his age were grappling with a bit more than disrupted school schedules. All 82 counties in Mississippi suffered enough damage that day to be declared natural disaster areas, and more than 235 of our state’s citizens died as a result.

Looking back, it’s easy to see that Aug. 29, 2005, though terrible, brought out the best in Brookhaven. Shelters opened their doors (more on that next week), volunteers cranked up their chainsaws to clear roads, neighbors shared canned goods, and utility workers moved into high gear.

“The main thing is we were very lucky,” one of the city’s water department employees told me. “We had generators on all our wells, so we didn’t lose water at all. We had more service issues like trees knocking meters out of the ground. It was the street department that had so much to do.”

Willie Wilson of the Solid Waste Department agrees, stating that the monumental work lasted for weeks. “The first priority was to get trees off the road so people could move around. We had to get it clear so doctors and nurses could make it to the hospital. We worked from sun up until we couldn’t see, then crews came out with lights.”

He goes on to tell that the trees hadn’t only fallen on roads, but on cars and houses, too. “Customers were upset over their losses,” Wilson remembers, “but they were glad to see us. Some even made sandwiches for us.” It was by far the worst storm damage Wilson says he has seen during his 13 years with the city. “There were no deaths here, though, and we thank God for that.”

By nightfall on the 29th, more than 31,000 Brookhaven residents were without power. According to Robbin Jeter, vice president of customer service at Entergy, some 1,200 linemen and support staff “were on the ground, in the air and everywhere in between, working around the clock to restore services throughout the state.”

I vividly remember how forlorn Brookway Boulevard looked without power. It wasn’t long, though, before the now-gone Mexican eatery El Sombrero somehow managed to reopen, their lights standing out in the darkness like a beacon my family couldn’t resist. Who knew fluorescent bulbs and the hum of an air conditioner could be so comforting? Forget the chips and salsa, it was the feeling of “normal” that we sought, and evidently we weren’t the only ones. The place was packed.

Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.