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Hurricane Katrina Preservation Assessments in Mississippi

Received 9/28/05 from Ann Frellsen, Collections Conservator, Emory
University Libraries. Atlanta, GA


Hurricane Katrina Preservation Assessments in Mississippi

Between September 14th and September 16th approximately two weeks following
Hurricane Katrina, Ann Frellsen, collections conservator at Emory
University, and Christine Wiseman, preservation services manager at The
Georgia Archives, conducted assessments of archives and historical
repositories in the three coastal counties of Mississippi damaged by
Hurricane Katrina.  We were among the first to look at the conditions of
important records in the areas most devastated by the hurricane. 

Under the auspices of the Mississippi Archives, a small team visited
nineteen sites that included public libraries, city halls, court houses,
historical societies, museums, and private collections.  Because of time
constraints, we focused on examining damaged permanent and vital records in
government facilities, and on local history and genealogical collections
held in public libraries.  In nearly every instance, preventing or halting
mold growth was a major concern, given the lack electrical power and the
expectation that power would not be available for several more days or

In some cases we were able to confirm or discount earlier reports of damage.
Public libraries in Bay St. Louis and Pascagoula, for example, were already
on their way towards recovery, despite earlier reports of severe damage to
their collections.  Mold remediation and building drying activities, such as
removing wet carpeting and drywall, were already underway.  In the case of
the Pascagoula Public Library, only several hundred volumes of replaceable
materials were lost.  Staff were concerned about the condition of the local
history and genealogy collection, which was expected to remain in the
building without power for several more weeks.  The Biloxi Public Library
suffered extreme damage to their general collection; the focus was on
salvaging as much of the local history collection as possible.

Some government buildings had basic services restored and were open to the
public. Moss Point City Hall and Hancock County Court House in Bay St.
Louis, for example, were open to the public, despite the damp and moldy
volumes air drying in their hallways.  We were told that "an official" had
told people that everything submerged in the floodwaters had to be thrown
out.  That directive may have caused vital records to be discarded before we
arrived. We noted the amounts of damaged materials at all sites, so that the
plans could be made for freezer trucks and climate controlled storage.

In all cases we talked to staff about the importance of taking personal
safety precautions and trained people to use on using respirators properly.

Many organizations are in dire need of freezing capabilities, particularly
for materials that were submerged in the flood water.  In addition, there is
a great need for assistance to private collections that are not eligible for
federal funding.  

We have learned that some of these materials have since been taken to
climate controlled storage.  Unfortunately Hurricane Rita is delaying
recovery efforts.  As conditions improve and more services are restored,
more teams can continue to go into the devastated communities. Gasoline
availability and the lack of accommodations for visitors may continue to
hamper preservation efforts. 

Christine Wiseman
Preservation Services Manager
The Georgia Archives

Ann Frellsen
Collections Conservator
Emory University Libraries

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