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Damage to Waveland shocks city leaders

Yesterday, local department heads and ministers made the long drive down to Waveland, Miss. to get a first hand look at the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina and offer assistance. What they saw was shocking.

Demopolis Mayor Cecil P. Williamson said the widespread damage, even six months after Katrina, showed how fortunate Demopolis was to have missed the hurricane’s path.

“It really tugged at your heartstrings,” Williamson said. “I just kept saying ‘there but by the grace of God goes Demopolis.”

Though Katrina dominated headlines in August, Williamson said, there was no way to fully appreciate the vast destruction without seeing it first hand.

“There is so much destruction that what you see on television just doesn’t do it justice,” Williamson said. “Everything is gone. It is nothing but broken trees. They don’t even have streets because they washed away with the tide.”

Demopolis Police Chief Jeff Manuel, who also made the trip, summed up what he saw in just two words.

“Total devastation,” Manuel said. “You see the destruction on television, but it is completely different when you see it first hand. It was really a somber experience.”

There has been little to smile about since the hurricane tore through Aug. 29. Several city officials and workers have not had a day off since August. But Wednesday was a little different.

Representatives from Demopolis did not just come to take the tour, they came to offer help. The local Ministerial Association purchased a van last week to donate to the city of Waveland. The van will be used to transport elderly citizens to doctor appointments and take them to pick up prescriptions. Wednesday, Ministerial Association representatives Aaron Raulerson, Rex Kent and Lacornia Harris arrived to present the van.

Though, Raulerson said, they were glad to help out, it was tough to get over the initial shock of the destruction.

“It was a revelation to be there just blocks away from the Gulf of Mexico,” Raulerson said. “It was amazing to see the destruction. It was like a war zone.”

For months after the hurricane, Waveland has received gifts and aid to help them through short-term recovery efforts. But, the van will help for years to come. Williamson said leaders of the battered Mississippi city were very grateful for the gift.

“They told us that bringing the van down did wonders for the morale down there,” Williamson said. “They said it meant so much to them to know there were people out there who really care.”

After touring the city, those who made the trip met with local members of their departments. Manuel said they came away from these meetings with a clear picture of what needs have been met.

“I think the meetings went really well,” Manuel said. “I think we have a better understanding of their needs. We know they are going to need help for a long time.”

The Ministerial Association, Raulerson said, had similar meetings with local church leaders.

“We talked with them and began to explore ways the Ministerial Association can reach out to the people of Waveland,” Raulerson said. “We hope this is the beginning of a long relationship.”

The city is planning a meeting, possibly for next Wednesday, to get together and discuss their tour and discuss possible relief efforts with the community.