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Katrina brings good and bad for Demopolis

Demopolites can find some good in the chaos and destruction brought by Katrina Monday night, including some economic benefits and boosts to the image this small town portrays.

“We’ve had a lot of visitors coming up from evacuated areas and we appreciate everyone in Demopolis being polite to these visitors,” Demopolis Mayor Cecil Williamson said. She said some residents of the Gulf Coast and parts of Mississippi have actually made a habit of visiting Demopolis when hurricanes threaten.

“I spoke to one woman at the grocery store who said this is her third time coming up here,” Williamson said. She said the repeat business can be attributed to the hospitality and friendliness shown guests by Demopolis residents.

That repeat business means repeated economic benefits for the town as well, as those visitors use the local hotels, gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses.

“The hurricane definitely had an impact on the town in that all the hotels are full, the grocery stores, gas stations and other retail businesses are busy,” she said. “That’s the positive impact. The negative impact is all the overtime of city employees to clean up and get the city back to normal.”

Williamson said the employees are working quickly to perform those duties and said it should go a little more quickly this time because there are fewer trees down than when Ivan came through.

“Ivan really got a lot of trees,” she said. “What Ivan didn’t get, Katrina did.”

As for business, aside from the obvious of damaged roofs and other structural items, the hurricane did not have much impact. But Jay Shows, director of the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce, said there may be some unseen impacts such as with the timber industry.

“For landowners who make business selling timber it could hurt them,” he said. Shows explained that because downed and damaged timber can be harvested so much more quickly and easily following a hurricane, local mills get filled and prices for good timber decreases.

“Landowners may not be able to get as good of a price after a hurricane has come through,” he said.

On the other hand, he said, the same reasons mean good news for the paper producers.

“You’ve heard the old adage, ‘what hurts one helps another,’ – that’s the case here. Timber floods the mills quickly and they are able to get more for less,” he said.

As for construction on such structures as the much-anticipated Super Wal-Mart and other construction along Highway 80, Shows said residents should not be concerned.

“If our community has power and two to three days of sunshine, the setbacks should be minimal,” he said. As of Tuesday afternoon it looked like contractors would have just that – days of brilliant sun to get back on track.