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Learning From Katrina: Pearlington, Miss., Struggles to Rebuild

A small town on the Mississippi Gulf Coast must revamp its water system in the wake of Hurricane Katrina

4 min read

When Hurricane Katrina crashed into the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2005, it plowed right into Pearlington, a small community nestled in the cypress-and-yellow pinewoods near the coast. The storm surge from Katrina submerged the town beneath 6 meters of water. When aid workers first arrived 10 days later, they found hungry residents living in tents and under tarps, and every house, building, and vehicle in the town had been destroyed.

Now, two years later, Pearlington struggles to rebuild. Last month, two of us (Hoe and Foster) visited Pearlington with a group of 32 students and faculty from the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, as part of a project called the Feldman Initiative, which is dedicated to helping rebuild Mississippi’s Hancock County—a forgotten area of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. In addition to engineers, the group from Penn included nurses, social workers, and dentists, who helped provide basic social and medical services to this hard-pressed community. We were hosted by the Pearlington Recovery & Resource Center, an efficiently run nongovernment organization that operates out of the town’s now-abandoned elementary school.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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