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City Aid to Gulf Gets Rolling

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

October 17 -- Santa Monica is getting ready to help its new sister city on the Alabama coast do some heavy lifting.

The City Council last week approved a plan to loan 18 City vehicles to clear debris from the streets of Bayou La Batre, a small town of 2,500 which was hit especially hard by Hurricane Katrina in late August.

The vehicles and equipment -- including pick-ups, cranes, utility vehicles, street sweepers, a skip loader, a dump truck, a riding lawn mower and six chain saws -- are expected to be loaded on trucks and driven to the gulf coast within the next week.

In addition to having 1,000 homes swept away, the tiny port town -- which was the setting for the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company in the movie "Forest Gump" and is dubbed the seafood capital of Alabama -- lost its entire fishing fleet in the storm.

The situation is so bad that, until recently, the town's mayor was out helping clear debris from the street, a number one priority to bring things back to normal, said City officials.

"I tried to reach the mayor which was, at first, a bit problematic because he was out on the streets, his sleeves rolled up, personally helping residents with the overwhelming challenges of the post-storm period," said Santa Monica Mayor Pam O'Connor.

Santa Monica was one of the first cities to lend a helping hand in the heavy lifting.

"We're really proud,” O'Connor said. “While other cities have also been helping out in various ways, (Bayou La Batre's) Building and Safety officials told us that Santa Monica was the only city preparing to send them vehicles and they were extremely thankful."

The move to partner with gulf coast towns hit hard by the storm was taken up in early September by O'Connor, Council member Holbrook and City Manager Susan McCarthy.

Soon after, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and Conference of Black Mayors instituted a sister-city program to help the gulf coast.

Bayou La Batre was paired with Santa Monica on September 27, and City officials said this is just the beginning of helping the town return to normal.

"We are seeking broader community support as well," said O'Connor, who added that the City would tap school and PTA networks to bring additional help.

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