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----------------------------------A port in the storm
Kris Riemann, director of public works, Gulfport, Miss.
Like every other city trapped in Hurricane Katrina's path, Gulfport was ravaged. The city's sewer lift stations—all down. Every street light—washed away. All major roads—buried in an avalanche of debris. The entire southern part of the city—completely wiped out.
What separated Gulfport from other municipalities during the disaster was its rapid revival. Battling tropical-storm-force winds, 30 of the public works department's 150-person staff reported to work the day Katrina hit; 90 were on the scene by day three. Because they labored around the clock in the storm's immediate aftermath, streets were cleared and water pressure restored within a week; sewer service and traffic systems were running in four weeks.
At the front lines of this remarkable restoration stood Riemann. He endured exhausting work days for nearly two weeks straight, stealing sleep when he could on his conference table. However, he remains humble about his heroic contribution, deflecting praise to his diligent crew.
“In terms of public works'recovery, our staff is due 100% of the credit for that success,” he says. “Their efforts of working 17-hour days, washing each other's clothes, making sandwiches, doing tasks that they normally wouldn't do, willingly, made all the difference. We would not stop until the roads were cleared, water was on, sewers were flowing, and traffic signals were running.”
Even though he's had time to breathe, Riemann isn't resting. His goal: to make sure citizens get the best possible service in times of calm as well as crisis.
“Every day, we should strive to help someone else,” he says. “We are in the perfect position to help thousands of people and touch their lives every day.”
— Jenni Spinner