From the Rockport front lines: ‘This town is devastated’

Surveying the Hurricane Harvey damage firsthand in the small Texas coast town of Rockport, it appears it’s more wind damage than water damage, but one thing’s for sure, says Biloxi Fire Chief Joe Boney: The town of 10,000 is devastated. It’s a slow process in digging out from the piles of debris since the Category 5 storm roared through town on the night of Aug. 25, nearly four weeks ago.

Boney and a team of a dozen Biloxi volunteers has been in Rockport since Friday night and has worked daily with a group of five volunteers from the New Sharon (Iowa) Fire Department, helping homeowners, mostly public safety workers, get their homes in an at least livable state.

The Biloxi and New Sharon group, awaking in their tents at 5 each morning, works usually until sunset helping clear trees from the roofs of homes and patching roofs, “just so people can move back into their homes,” Boney said.

“There’s a lot of work here,” the chief declared. It’s been devastating for this town, with as much as 30 to 40 percent of the homes destroyed. About 30 percent of the population is low income, and of course being a beach town you do have some people with means. But the thing that I have noticed is that you don’t see the numbers of volunteers and church groups that we saw in such numbers after Katrina, or that you see after any huge disaster. These people appear to be pretty much on their own.

“Businesses don’t have employees, they’re working limited hours, all the same things we had in the weeks and months after Katrina.”

The Biloxi and New Sharon contingent works out of tents that the group erected across from the town’s volunteer fire department, where showers and even a laundry are available. Said Boney: “We wake up at 5, have breakfast and we load up and are out working by 7. We usually come back at the end of the day and our chef that we brought with us has supper ready. We talk about the day and do the same thing the next day.”

The Biloxi group as of today had made 30 properties habitable for their owners. “We had a case where one man needed his wooden fence put back up in front of his house. We said, ‘Yea, we can do that.’ That meant he could let his two dogs out, and, more importantly, the man, who was the husband of a public safety dispatcher, was able to bring back his daughter from Houston. He didn’t feel comfortable having the child in the house with the dogs, so our work helped reunite a family.

“There have been lots of stories like that.”

The Biloxi group will put a full day in today, and after lunchtime Friday will begin breaking down its tent to be ready to begin the 10-hour trip back to Biloxi on Saturday morning.

The response from the Rockport townspeople has been overwhelming, Boney said: “We’ve had people bring us food every day. We’ve had people thank us. We’ve had people try to give us money. It’s really unbelievable. There’s nobody here helping these people.”
See images from the front lines


You can still help the Rockport relief effort

The West End Hose Co. No. 3, the city’s all-volunteer fire museum, is continuing to accept online donations for the Hurricane Harvey relief effort.  The fund-raising drive, which uses the online GoFundMe site, has raised over $3,500 since it began on Aug. 28.  To make a secure donation, click here


News and notes: Clone Wars, trash talk and a benefit for the heart

Trash talk:  Tonight Biloxi residents will have a chance to learn more about the new garbage, trash and recycling services and get answers to questions at a community meeting from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Donal M. Snyder Sr. Community Center, 2520 Pass Road.  To read more about the new service, click here

Fall Movie Series:  The Parks & Recreation Department is hosting the first movie of its Fall Movie Series with the showing of the “The Clone Wars” on Friday on the Biloxi Town Green. Concessions begin at 6 p.m., games at 6:30 p.m. and the movie at dusk. To see the flyer, click here.  

Have a heart:  As part of the city’s ongoing support for the American Heart Association, the City of Biloxi will offer free tours of the Biloxi Lighthouse when it hosts Climbing with a Heart on Saturday from the 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. To see the flyer, click here.