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The Gulf Coast town of Pearlington, Mississippi, is located less than 40 miles northwest of New Orleans, along the Pear River. When Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005, the eastern eye wall was directly over this rural town. Every home, building and vehicle was destroyed or seriously damaged.
In the aftermath of the storm, “Mountains to Mississippi” was born, a program that began in Colorado and now has its roots firmly planted in aiding this rural community. Reconstruction of homes – by members of the community with the support of out-of-town volunteers – is the top priority.
“We continue to emphasize the importance of community participation,” says Tom Dalessandri, who heads up the project. “For each home we’ve finished, families have participated in helping their neighbors. Neighbors enabling and supporting each other has been a huge encouragement to our program’s participation. Families continue to stay involved, even when their homes are finished.”
Mr. Dalessandri notes that in a post-disaster situation, it is easy to come to depend upon others, and thus lose one’s belief in oneself. The ability to keep the community members engaged in the rebuilding process is restoring survivor’s faith in themselves.
Nonetheless, Mr. Dalessandri echoes Kevin Cox’s take on the challenges that remain. “For every home we’ve completed, there’s another family out there that is more desperate,” he says, estimating that only 40% of Pearlington’s homes have been rebuilt, 24 months after the deadly hurricane. “In the absence of a mental health component, there is severe depression, a lot of stress and emotional trauma. If I were to encourage anyone looking to help, I’d say that in addition to building houses – we need to build a strong mental health component.”