Volunteers Begin Cleaning Up Coastal Waterways

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates Hurricane Katrina left behind more than 30 million cubic yards of debris on the Coast. Three million cubic yards of that ended up in and around the waterways.

In just a few weeks, the Department of Marine Resources, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, will begin the task of removing marine storm debris. Friday morning volunteers began the preliminary work in Hancock County.

More than 150 volunteers fanned out along Hancock County's beach front for a mission, finding and picking up the debris Katrina left behind.

"We've got all kinds of groups, military and civilian, helping to remove marine debris and taking advantage of the low tides of winter so we can get out and remove some of that debris from the shoreline," DMR's Public Relations Director Lauren Thompson said.

Volunteers from Keesler Air Force Base and seven other state and federal agencies, including Americorps and Calvary Relief, spent the day clearing storm debris. All seemed amazed at the stuff they found.

"Bottom of a table, bottom of chairs, dresser draws. We found walls insulation," Air Force Major Teresa Roberts said.

Lt. Commander Dwight Campbell of the U.S. Coast Guard added to the list of odd debris found.

"Cassette tapes, VCRs, just a number of items, wagon wheels. A lot of household items that we're finding out here," Campbell said.

"Basically all the foundation of somebody's life," Roberts said.

Picking up some of the debris posed a real challenge for volunteers.

"It's stuck down, no telling what's attached to it, but we're trying to get it out before the tide comes in," one volunteer said of a washing machine they found.

Friday's cleanup was just the preliminary work for a more extensive debris removal operation. The Coast Guard and DMR will use heavy equipment in up coming weeks to clear debris from more than 400 waterways on the coast.

"Of course the places that will be targeted first are those in residential areas and canals that could pose a danger to humans," Thompson said.

She says the sooner they get the waterways cleaned up and open, the sooner boaters can get back to the waters.

In the coming weeks, many college students on Spring Break will also pitch in to help clean up the beaches and waterways.

by Al Showers