Add the USDA-ARS Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans and the Southern Horticultural Laboratory in Poplarville, Miss., to the mounting toll from Hurricane Katrina.
“The ARS Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans sustained, and is currently sustaining, significant damage,” said Ed Knipling, administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Washington. “The building is severely flooded, the roof is damaged, and the windows were blown out. The facility is inoperable and inaccessible.”
Knipling said the SRRC’s directors and research leaders are in the process of relocating to Stoneville, Miss., to set up continuity of operations activities.
“News reports of the last two days indicate wide spread massive destruction along the Gulf Coast after the landfall of Hurricane Katrina,” Knipling said in an e-mail to USDA employees. “The Poplarville facility also sustained major damage, according to reports.”
He said USDA-ARS facilities and employees suffered no losses or wind and water damage when the Hurricane hit Florida on the weekend of Aug. 26.
“With the hurricane’s second landfall Monday morning (Aug. 29), some areas along the Gulf Coast were hard hit. In New Orleans and Poplarville, Miss., many ARS employees evacuated the area safely before the storm, but the condition of those who stayed behind and the whereabouts of others were unknown.”
Since then, USDA ARS has been in contact with a number of employees at both locations.
The USDA facility at Poplarville, which is located just of I-59 and was believed to have been in the direct path of the hurricane, lost six of its ten green houses and sustained damage to other buildings. A new office building, which opened late last year, apparently received little damage.
“The Houma, La., worksite and other ARS facilities near the path of the hurricane weathered the storm with little or no damage,” said Knipling. “It will likely be several weeks before we will be able to fully assess the extent of the damage at ARS facilities.”
He said the main task of ARS at this point is to locate and/or account for affected employees in the Mid South Area from the New Orleans and the Poplarville locations. The MSA has set up an emergency database to help account for affected employees which can be reached at http://msa.ars.usda.gov or by phone at 662-686-5343 or by fax 662-686-5373. Affected employees or anyone who knows the whereabouts of an affected employee who is not able to call in are asked to contact MSA.
“It is important we account for everyone and collect data that will allow ARS to support its employees in the most meaningful way possible,” he said.
The SRRC in New Orleans houses a number of ARS research facilities including the laboratory that developed durable press fabrics among a number of other new products. Poplarville is the location of the Small Fruit Research Station and the Ornamental Products Laboratory.