MS library directors learn Katrina's lessons

HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - The folks who oversee Mississippi's public libraries hope to learn about dealing with disasters from their counterparts on the Gulf Coast, who had to bounce back from Hurricane Katrina.

Forty library directors from all over the state kicked off a fact finding mission in Hancock County Thursday.

At the Bay St. Louis branch, a slideshow of wrecked or destroyed libraries gave the visitors their first look at just how far the libraries in Hancock County have come since Katrina.

"During Katrina, the library took on about eight inches of water. So we were able to preserve a lot of our collections, but there were things that we did lose," said Nel Ducomb with the Hancock County Library System.

She said they were fortunate the library's 1930s crown jewel survived Katrina and many other storms.

"The card catalog that you see out there in the hall was the original card catalog that Miss Louise Crawford used. She was the first librarian in Hancock County. And even though a lot of the more contemporary furniture was damaged in Katrina with the flood waters and the mud, the beautiful old antiques, they survived."

Interim Library Director Courtney Thomas told the group, "Following Hurricane Katrina, this building was actually the only government building left standing. So it became a very important resource, along with our Kiln Public Library."

Thomas told her colleagues they should be flexible following a disaster, because you never know what role you'll be called to play.

"We had satellite set up, so you could use satellite phones. You could file your FEMA claims here. We found that when you were dealing with organizations like FEMA, if you didn't have access to the internet, if you didn't have a phone, you were cut off from any type of aid."

The Executive Director of the Mississippi Library Commission Sharman Smith said it's information the library directors can apply to any disaster, whether it's a natural disaster or man-made.

"There are disasters of all kinds. And a disaster can be in a single location, it could be a water pipe, it could be a tornado in an area, it could be an earthquake. Regardless of the disaster, there are certain things you need to prepare for ahead of time that will make your recovery much easier," explained Smith.

The library directors will tour 11 libraries on the coast before wrapping up their trip Friday afternoon.

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