Santa Monica to Help Tiny Alabama Town
By Olin Ericksen
September 29 -- When hurricane Katrina slammed into the flyspeck Alabama coast town of Bayou La Batre last month, its 2,700 residents lost nearly everything.
From homes that were swept away by the raging waters to the sunken and unsalvageable shrimp and oyster boats that provided most people their livelihoods, the devastation was complete.
With emergency workers still taking stock of the situation and its mayor helping clear debris from the streets, one fact is clear through the murky waters: The delta city will need plenty of help to get back to normal, and, as it turns out, Bayou La Batre will be getting much of that help rebuilding from its new sister city on the west coast -- Santa Monica.
The United States Conference of Mayors this week picked Santa Monica and Dover, Delaware to bring the stricken town back from the brink, according to City officials, who soon after the storm suggested pairing cities to the Gulf Coast to help.
"They are in pretty desperate shape," said Council member Bob Holbrook, who has viewed aerial shots of the destruction.
"A fly over of the area shows they lost between 1,000 and 1,500 homes and a lot of their fishing fleet is sunk or was thrown on top of one another,” Holbrook said. “They also have two schools in the area that need recovery help."
While Santa Monica did not offer monetary help and it appears will not be providing shelter assistance, Holbrook said the City may send volunteers of all types, materials, library supplies, generators and a street maintenance manager to move debris that bogs down recovery operations.
"They have one tractor in town, and its submerged," Holbrook said, adding that with lines of communication mostly still down, the problem is deciding what resources to send. "There's a lot of things we can do to help if we can figure out what they need."
Further complicating matters is a language barrier; nearly 30 percent of Bayou La Batre is Asian, said City Manager Susan McCarthy, who will help coordinate the response.
"Many of them don't speak any English, so they're having to deal with that as well," she said.
While food and water needs have been met, McCarthy said trailors provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for shelter appear just now to be rolling into town, although that information cannot be confirmed.
While rain from Katrina still fell, Santa Monica officials began making plans to help cities in the region, said Holbrook.
"Twenty-four hours to 48 hours after Katrina hit, Mayor Pam O'Connor and I had a conversation with the City Manager about what we can do to help, and an idea we came up with is this sister Cities program," said Holbrook.
"We contacted the Chief Executive Officer of the United States Conference of Mayors about putting together a program and three to four days later we got a response that they were going to do it."
While the organization could not be reached for comment, Holbrook said he believes the City played a part in launching the suggestion that is part of a national movement now.
"I don't know if any other city also suggested partnering, but I have a warm and fuzzy feeling we were the ones who gave them the idea," he said.
The City also offered help to a second town hit hard by the storm, Slidell, Alabama, but City officials have not yet heard back about what that town may need.
This will not be a short-term connection between the Bayou La Batre and Santa Monica, Holbrook said
"One thing is for sure," he said, "we're going to be in it for the long haul. However long they need us, we'll be there."
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