The Harrison County school district headquarters was about the only place that had electricity in coastal Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina and for more than a week afterward.
Thanks to an $83,000 gas-powered generator the district bought a few years ago, the offices of the 13,300-student district, which surrounds the cities and school districts of Gulfport and Biloxi, quickly became the hub of the storm-hammered community.
District Superintendent Henry Arledge said here last week that he rode out the storm inside the building, mostly a metal-frame warehouse that also houses the district’s supply center and an alternative school. Around it, local businesses’ signs were blown out, power lines and poles were toppled, low-lying areas were flooded, and trees or debris littered every yard.
The district offices, which were air-conditioned and offered cold drinks and working rest rooms more than a week before any place else in Gulfport, quickly became a staging area for rescue workers. The Gulfport police moved in, and even relocated the county’s 911 emergency center to a room normally used for staff development. Nearby school systems, including the 2,000-student Pass Christian district, whose office was destroyed, also set up shop.
Mr. Arledge, who learned in his 26 years as the elected Harrison County superintendent to be ready for storms like Katrina, said some educators in his district waited out the storm at their schools, some of which were being used as shelters.
He bragged on Elmer Mullins, the principal of D’Iberville High School in the district, along with a school resource officer, for rescuing five county sheriff’s officers who were trapped in a sheriff’s office that was flooding during the storm. The principal had heard their calls for help over the radio, and drove a school bus through storm waters to find the officers, who swam to safety with their dogs.
“Our principals went through the hurricane trying to assist and help people make it through,” Mr. Arledge said.
The superintendent said he made sure to raise the American and Mississippi flags on the school headquarters’ flagpole the day after the storm. Everyone who entered the bustling offices and packed parking lot could see them.
“It shows you that we are going to come back,” Mr. Arledge said.
A version of this article appeared in the September 14, 2005 edition of Education Week as School Official Rides Out Storm