Selma native seeks help for island

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 6, 2005

The Selma Times-Journal

Don Chamberlain drove five hours yesterday from the Alabama coast to his hometown of Selma to share the story of how the small community of Pineda Island is picking up the pieces in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Chamberlain, a big man who was once a star football player at Parrish High School, tried to hide his tears behind dark sunglasses as he talked about how Hurricane Katrina destroyed every home on the island, including the offices of his ship building business.

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“There were 17 homes in that community,” Chamberlain said. “Twelve of the households were completely destroyed, and everyone (on the island) lost their possessions.”

With all the attention focused on New Orleans and the Mississippi Coast, Chamberlain said he fears

the people in South Alabama will be ignored or forgotten.

He said even the local officials – with the exception of Spanish Fort Mayor Joseph Bonner and the U.S. Representative with the same name, Joe Bonner – haven’t visited the island.

“FEMA has been there, but not a single Baldwin County Commissioner has been to see them,” he said.

Chamberlain came to Selma with a long list of the island’s victims and pictures of the destruction with the hopes that the people in Selma could help those of Pineda Island.

One of the families he spoke about was D.V. and Erma Williams, who were one of the first to move onto the island nearly 50 years ago.

“A few months ago, D.V. and his wife celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary with 500 people in attendance. Gov. Bob Riley issued a proclamation honoring their anniversary,” Chamberlain said. “On Aug. 31, I watched Mr. D.V. and Erma go back to their home to see the destruction. He said to me ‘Don, I don’t need anything. I have Erma and that’s all that counts.”

Chamberlain said this reaction is an example of how the people of Pineda Island have voiced little complaint about their own losses and instead expressed sadness for hurricane victims in New Orleans and Mississippi.

Chamberlain, who is now trying to figure out how to rebuild his business, has tried to help the people of Pineda Island as much as he can. He said he has been bringing them food and supplies and has been washing clothes for a family.

Chamberlain said he came to Selma on a mission to tell the story of Pineda Island and find people who can help them. “The reason (I came to Selma) is twofold,” he said. “First, many living in Selma will remember the flood we had here in the early 60’s and the devastation in Selmont. Second, folks in Selma have big hearts.”