[AIC National Collections Emergency News]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Report from Mississippi volunteer team 1

The following is a report by Gary Frost from volunteer AIC-AASLH Mississippi
Team 1. Gary is a conservator with the University of Iowa Libraries. The
team was on site from 9/22/05-9/29/05.


The American Association of State and Local History recently sponsored a
mobile damage assessment and response team that toured the coast region of
Mississippi providing conservation assistance and grant application support
letters (4) to twelve libraries and museums. Members of the September 22-29
team were Joy Barnett, Texas Association of Museums, Ashley Barnett, Fire
and Rescue, Burnet, TX, Randy Silverman, University of Utah and myself,
representing the Libraries of the University of Iowa. 

Hurricane damage extends into central Mississippi. The coastal regions were
devastated by immense storm surges that moved up to six miles inland. These
tsunami like waves were reported at heights of 26 to 35 feet advancing in
two accumulating surges and receding with further turbulence. We observed
surreal beach front devastation along the entire length of the 60 mile
Mississippi Gulf Coast. Bridges are gone and remaining roads near the tide
water are extremely hazardous. 

At the same time the entire southern half of the state of Mississippi
experienced severe winds and tornados from the "strong" right side of the
Katrina hurricane. Many immense inland trees, not tested by such strong
winds, came down on structures, utilities and roadways while airborne debris
such as highway and street signs caused further damage and dangers.

The coastal regions remained under curfew and military management at the
time of our trip. Four weeks after the storm only residents and salvage
crews (including ours) are permitted to enter into municipalities such as
Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Gulfport, Biloxi, Ocean Springs and
Pascagoula. Needless to say, museums and libraries in these cities are
devastated. There is no electricity or water and irregular cellular phone

The courageous and resilient staffs of these institutions are suffering
personal tragedy and many have reached exhaustion. Most have lost home and
possessions and are surviving with military and Red Cross supplies. Since we
arrived on-location with our air conditioned travel home stocked with ice
and refreshments, we were able to invite staff inside for long listening
sessions while our assessment and response actions were completed in the

At one location we could not find the remains of the library building, at
another we found the shell of the building, but could not find the books.
May of these libraries contained important local history archives while much
of the historical material in the region remains in private family
collections whose survival is in even greater question. Surviving materials,
regardless of condition, are now even more crucial to cultural preservation
in the region.

We have demonstrated collection evacuation, collection stabilization and
methods for arrest of mold bloom at the sites visited. We have produced
assessments of prevailing conditions and recommended actions at each site.
We have composed and advanced letters of inquiry to NEH to provide emergency
fundings (up to $30,000 each) for visited institutions with collections at
risk and in need of stabilization and remediation. We have de-briefed our
activities with a NARA team in the field and with our replacement AASLH
team. Our team will also be submitting a separate funding proposal to plan
for future, more expedited assessment services such as we provided.
The Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library are seriously damaged.
While walking around the debris field I noticed a piano high up in a tree
with a Confederate flag snagged on the same branch. Just such surreal notes
permeate the situation on the coast of Mississippi, offering strange and
uncertain implications for the preservation of southern history.   

[Subject index] [Index for current month] [AIC National Collections Emergency News]