This post is the third in a six-part series commemorating libraries and librarians 10 years after Hurricane Katrina.
In 2005, Susan Cassagne, president of Mississippi Library Association and now executive director of Mississippi Library Commission, told American Libraries that Hancock and Harrison counties took the brunt of the storm for Mississippi. In the Harrison County city of Pass Christian, an estimated 90% of homes were damaged or destroyed. Tidal waves surged to 27 feet. We reported on the harrowing story of the 13 police officers who rode out the storm on the roof of the Pass Christian Public Library in 130-mile-per-hour winds. It is no surprise that the school library at Pineville Elementary in Pass Christian was not spared.
“That was my first year as a librarian,” says Jeanne Tagge, library media specialist and art teacher at the school. “I had a library for three weeks, and then it was months without a library.”
Katrina had destroyed the library of the small K–6 school, including 28 shelves of books, display cases, and many more books that were discovered to be molded or contaminated as the year wore on. Tagge herself evacuated to Enid, Oklahoma, during the storm and says she was not allowed back into Pass Christian until authorities had found all of the bodies. Mississippi had confirmed 220 deaths across the state by late-September 2005, The New York Times reported.
Tagge was living in the wreckage of her home—no electricity, no drinking water, a leaking roof, and virtually nothing standing inside of her house except studs—when school resumed less than two months later, in October 2005. “I didn’t get a trailer until after Thanksgiving that year,” she says. But it didn’t stop her from returning to work and giving students—and teachers—much-needed library time and a return to normalcy.
We as a staff tried to be as upbeat as possible because we knew the kids had it just as bad as we did. —Jeanne Tagge, library media specialist and art teacher at Pineville Elementary School
She had a few books in the luggage she escaped with, including Frindle by Andrew Clements, which she read to students of every grade level in a room where there was no carpet on the floor, no shelves, and nails sticking out of the walls. “But we had a library to the best of our ability,” Tagge says.
It was a period of adjusting to a “new normal,” as she refers to it. “We as a staff tried to be as upbeat as possible because we knew the kids had it just as bad as we did. We knew a lot kids were going home to live in trailers or in the wreckage of their homes.”
About two years after Katrina, Tagge says the library was in pretty good shape—rebuilt shelves, a restocked collection, and new tables, chairs, and computers. Book donations came in from as far as Canada, often accompanied by class pictures, dedications, and personalized notes from the schoolchildren and schools that adopted them during the disaster relief. Scholastic provided Pineville with reference books, and a local grant enabled the school to purchase Accelerated Reader books. Tagge says church volunteer groups also helped the school—and the state—get back on its feet. “If it had not been for all of the church groups, Mississippi would have taken a very long time to recover,” she says.
While students who attend Pineville Elementary School today are too young to have a recollection of Hurricane Katrina, Tagge says they know the 10th anniversary is approaching. “They see it on the news, on the TV—they’re aware.” Tagge recently found photographs of the school that depict damage endured from Katrina and is considering creating a slideshow so students can get a better idea of how far the school has come.
Pass Christian plans to recognize the anniversary with area church services and a community picnic. Tagge says it’s important that people share their personal stories. “Every time you tell your story, your charge is released. You relive it sometimes, but each time you tell it, it gets a little easier to tell. Some of the emotion is dispersed.”
She also appreciates that the media has taken an interest in Mississippi with the anniversary approaching. “It’s nice to be remembered,” Tagge says. “Sometimes you hear a lot about New Orleans but you don’t hear a lot about us over here.”