Migration strain

Hattiesburg American

Thursday 22 December 2005, 5:48 pm

By Rachel Leifer

The repercussions of South Mississippi's shifting population are definitely palpable, if not yet precisely quantifiable. It can be felt in the Bay-Waveland district's sparsely attended schools and in the snaking grocery store lines in Hattiesburg, in Gulfport's legions of temporary workers and the soaring real estate market in Wiggins.

Flanked by hurricane-devastated Hancock County and St. Tammany Parish, La., Pearl River County's population may have shot from about 52,000 to about 110,000, said county emergency management director Bobby Strahan.

"Law enforcement calls have doubled, fire calls have doubled, EMS calls have doubled," he said.

Meanwhile, Gulf Coast communities hope to regain their lost residents. Tracking population changes in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties has been nearly impossible between the thousands who have left and the thousands of temporary contractors and relief workers who have come in, officials said.

School enrollment in Hancock County offers some sense of how population levels have changed - but many residents are retirees without young children, school officials noted.

Enrollment in the hard-hit Bay-Waveland School District - which was the last Mississippi district to resume classes on Nov. 7 - is at about 50 percent of pre-Katrina levels, said Dominica Favre, assistant to the superintendent.

"We're kind of thinking more families could be back after Christmas," said Favre. "People are finding places to stay, and there are more and more FEMA trailers every day."