Laundromats Are Hopping in Post-Katrina Mississippi

A free laundromat at the Pearlington, Miss., recovery site. i i

hide captionA free laundromat at the Pearlington, Miss., recovery site.

Noah Adams, NPR
A free laundromat at the Pearlington, Miss., recovery site.

A free laundromat at the Pearlington, Miss., recovery site.

Noah Adams, NPR

Hancock County, Miss., has 8,000 temporary FEMA trailers with electricity, water and sewer. These are small travel units, with a kitchen and a bathroom but no washer or dryer, so keeping a family in clean clothes means a visit to a crowded laundromat. Rich man, poor man — quarters are what really count.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And for the people living in FEMA trailers along the Gulf Coast, rich and poor alike, washing clothes has become a real chore. The storm surge from Katrina destroyed most of the laundromats. NPR's Noah Adams sent this story from the Mississippi coast.

NOAH ADAMS reporting:

They had a Mardi Gras parade on a Sunday afternoon in the city of Waveland. And one of the bright spots these days is a new laundromat right on the parade route. 30 washers, 30 dryers. And in Hancock County, with 8,500 FEMA trailers, that's worth cheering about. I talked with a laundromat customer, Karen Echols (ph), who's here from Texas. She's a master technician. She repairs FEMA trailers, and she lives in one. In these travel trailers, you can cook breakfast, take a semblance of a shower, but you'll have to find a washer and dryer someplace else.

Ms. KAREN ECHOLS (FEMA trailer technician, Gulf Coast): This is great, because it's clean, it's plenty of room for everybody. Last week I was here, I left one pair of brand new pants in the dryer, and I came back the next morning and they were here. And they were $40 britches. I thought I -- and I was washing them for a friend. I told the lady when I picked them up that, Oh, somebody's blessed, and she said, Yes, you are. And I said, Yeah, that's true. It's been really rough finding a place to wash clothes.

ADAMS: Karen Echols is one of the many out-of-town professionals or volunteers who live week to week in Hancock County helping rebuild after the storm surge and tornados that came with Katrina. In the community of Diamondhead, Missy Smokey (ph) works in a small laundromat, washing and drying clothes. They charge $1.25 a pound.

Ms. MISSY SMOKEY (Resident): We pretty much wash bulk laundry for the Army Corps of Engineers, the Nation Forestry, guys from out at Dupont. A lot of the guys get here earlier than we do, so they just drop their laundry off at the door with their name and phone number in it, and we'll bring it in, weigh it, wash it, dry it, fold it and call them when it's done.

ADAMS: Rod Weller (ph) is doing his own laundry. He's waiting for his clothes to finish. He comes here once a week.

Mr. ROD WELLER (Resident): I'm having a new house built, and I'm just waiting for that to finish up so I can get back to having my own washer and dryer.

ADAMS: Do you have a FEMA travel trailer?

Mr. WELLER: No, I bought my own. I couldn't wait for FEMA.

ADAMS: So do you look forward to coming once a week?

Mr. WELLER: It's a chore. It takes you back about 30 years.

ADAMS: Out on the country road, Alan Cole is making progress on his new home. He lives in a trailer too. He has a washer and dryer outside under the overhang of his old garden shed.

Mr. ALAN COLE (Resident): This actually come out of my house, which had 5-1/2 foot on the second floor, and three weeks after the storm, I pulled them out of the house, hooked up temporary power. When they got us power, hooked the water up to them, and it worked, the washing machine. I said, just by chance, let me try the dryer, and, unbelievably, it worked. We started out in buckets and barrels, but we got them working after they got us power, and they been working since then, now six months.

ADAMS: And now, there are free laundromats in Hancock County, several of them. A charitable foundation from Utah has set up 14 washers, 14 dryers at a site on Waveland Beach. Even the soap is free, and a few miles away, a Baptist church has a new laundromat in a building next to the VFW.

(Soundbite of people talking in laundromat)

Inside, I found a very busy Elizabeth Reasch (ph). Usually, she's a house painter. Since the storm, she's been cleaning them out. It's dirty and muddy work. She loves this new laundry, but the hours are short.

Ms. ELIZABETH REASCH (Resident): This closes at 5:00, and this is the only day to even do anything is Sundays. There's still no time to wash here, so I don't know.

ADAMS: How much you got to do?

Ms. REASCH: Oh, about eight loads. You know with kids and all, and the way you got to work out here with the mud and all, you know, you got no choice, but it's so muddy, and then we're cold. Once you get muddy, you can't stay out there in the weather. You got to go change again and put dry clothes on because you'll get sick if you don't.

ADAMS: Well, that's great you got something free here.

Ms. REASCH: Oh, I thank God. I didn't even know they had this until two weeks ago, and I thank God somebody from, the Boy Scouts from Tennessee come down and built this for us.

ADAMS: Here in Hancock County, Mississippi, back in the first weeks of last September, lots of people had no clothes to wash, let alone machines, and now, especially for those who stay in the trailers, clean laundry will continue to be a matter of quarters and community.

Noah Adams, NPR News.

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