‘A horse of a different color’: A look back at lessons learned from Katrina

Published 8:35 pm Saturday, October 31, 2015

File photo / Lincoln County Civil Defense Director Clifford Galey recently spoke to a group about the lasting impact of Hurricane Katrina and how they learned from it.

File photo / Lincoln County Civil Defense Director Clifford Galey recently spoke to a group about the lasting impact of Hurricane Katrina and how they learned from it.

“Katrina was, I like to say, a horse of a different color. We like to say we are prepared. We have a plan, but we were not prepared for Katrina.”

Clifford Galey, Lincoln County Civil Defense Director, recently spoke to the Lincoln County Historical and Genealogical Society about the impact Hurricane Katrina continues to have on the state. Galey said Lincoln County had 100 mile an hour sustained winds for an hour and a half at his office. The state had over $1 billion in damage, and Galey said estimates show about $1 million in damage in Lincoln County. 1.9 million people were affected by Katrina.

“The morning it hit I had a whole office full of people, and the power went out,” Galey said.

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His goal going in was to try to make sure everybody had power. Unfortunately, the power company cut the power north of Lincoln County, and everyone south of that had no electricity coming through the lines.

“We couldn’t get any if we wanted it,” he said.

Galey said each department, police, sheriff and fire began pulling out their emergency plans to start working. But it wasn’t long before they realized they needed to bring in backup.

Brookhaven staged 10,000 power company workers. Evacuee numbers reached 70,000. Law enforcement officers were brought in from as far away as North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee. The local military detachment had been deployed to Afghanistan at the time, so 147 soldiers from Indiana moved into the armory to help out.

One of the biggest issues surrounding Lincoln County was trying to get gasoline.

“I’m sure you sat those lines,” he said. “I’m sure you dealt with that; I’m sure you cussed me just as much as everybody else did. But there was really no way for us to get it.”

Galey said Katrina taught them that the new digital gas pumps were not made to operate off of the generators, and it took a special generator to operate them. Now, several places around town have received grants, so they have the special generators on hand.

“I can’t promise you we can get the fuel to the station, but we will at least will be able to get it out of the ground once we get it there,” he said.

Galey also talked about the Red Cross issue when a worker said they would give $100 to every family affected by the hurricane.

“We had a person here that had never worked a disaster in the United States — he worked for UNICEF,” Galey said. “When he put it out there, he didn’t realize what it was going to be.”

Since then, they have worked with Red Cross to make sure that won’t happen again.

Galey said Katrina also brought about a new statewide radio system.

“I can take this radio and stand right here in this room and talk to North Mississippi or the Gulf Coast,” he said.

The radio towers are built to withstand 200 miles an hour wind, but if a tower goes down, the state has portable antennas with repeaters to take to areas that have been damaged.

Currently, Galey and the Sheriff’s Office is on the system. They’re working to get the Brookhaven Fire Department and the Police Department on it. He said it would cost $320,000 to put the volunteer fire departments on it, and they don’t have that kind of money.

Galey said since Katrina specialty teams have been created, and it’s those teams that have been the most beneficial on a regular basis. The state has teams trained to do searches, swift water rescues and rope rescues. He said Lincoln County directly benefited from those teams when a child fell in a well over Labor Day weekend.

“We ain’t never had anything like that before in Lincoln County in our lives,” he said. “And honestly it was probably rougher on me those few hours with that child in the well than Katrina was because I could see him, I could talk to him, but I couldn’t get him.”

However one of the teams created post-Katrina had responded to a similar situation earlier this year. They were able to come in and get the boy out safely.

“We knew we needed it [the teams],” he said. “We knew we needed to do something, but we didn’t have the expertise or dollars to fund the training.”

Now, the state faces issues as the funding starts to cut back. He said it’s been 10 years since Katrina, and people tend to forget.

“We need to keep it up,” he said. “We try to keep everybody going.”

After the extreme number of evacuees, Brookhaven also received money from FEMA to building an emergency evacuation center. Galey said it cost $3.2 million, and the city paid about 10 percent of it. It’s currently under the operation of the Brookhaven Recreation Department.

“If you just let you sit there, nothing’s going to work when you need it,” he said.

Galey estimates that about 700 people can fit inside the building, and it’s only supposed to be a 36-hour shelter. There is a small kitchen, an office for a medical person and an office for security. He said the Red Cross provides bedding, food and medical supplies.

But at the end of Katrina, Galey said it took the good people of Lincoln County coming together to help.

“The best thing was all of the wonderful people in Lincoln County,” he said. “Neighbors helping neighbors is great because that’s how we are; that’s what we do.”

Twenty-nine days later

Galey said 29 days after the storm he got call from one of his firefighters.

“Anyone been down this dead end road?” Galey was asked.

He checked his map and paperwork.

“We don’t see anything,” Galey said. “Nobody’s called it in.”

They checked with the Sheriff’s Office. They didn’t haven anything. The firefighters told Galey it’ll take hours to cut their way through. Galey told them to create a package (a couple of meals, bottles of water and a first aid kit) and get back there.

“This older lady and gentleman have just been having themselves a good ol’ time,” he said. “They been taking care of everything. They said you know we’ve done run out of charcoal, so we’re cooking with wood.”

The couple had been going to the creek and getting water and improvising as needed.

“It’s just one of those things that gets you right here,” he said pointing at his heart. “Because there’s so many people screaming and hollering because their lights were out for a few hours, and here these folks were 29 days without anything.”