Were people turned away from entering South Mississippi town after hurricane? Woman says she and others blocked by firefighter because he ‘said so’

Published 4:16 pm Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Non-residents of a South Mississippi city complained that they were barred from entering the city limits in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, even though they had scheduled appointments inside the town.

The mayor and aldermen of Poplarville in Pearl River County called a special meeting Wednesday to discuss complaints that non-residents were being turned away from the city in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

Tasha Johnson addressed the Board to say that a firefighter with the city was turning people away from Poplarville right after the storm, but she refused to leave because she had an appointment at a local business. Johnson and another unnamed individual told the Board they came into contact with the as yet unnamed firefighter at Highway 53 and Interstate 59. Johnson said the firefighter was rude and aggressive towards her during the interaction. Johnson is a Wiggins resident who brings her child to Poplarville for therapy services. When the firefighter tried to turn her away from the city, she notified him that she needed to take her child to therapy.

When Johnson asked why the man was turning her away, she told the Board the man’s reply was, “Because I said so.”

She then asked the officer if the city was shut down.

Johnson said the man also made it a point to ask if she resided in the city, to which Johnson calmly replied that she is not a resident and was trying to get her child to therapy.

Johnson said the situation caused her anxiety.

“I started to tear up and to cry because I did nothing wrong,” said Johnson.

Johnson added that when she received a message notifying her that her child’s therapy session was still on at its scheduled time, she was sure the city was not shut down.

“He wasn’t trying to hear anything I had to say, I didn’t make a negative comment I didn’t meet him with the same aggression he gave me, I never matched it, not once,” said Johnson.

Johnson said she never saw the firefighter stop or question any other vehicles, just hers.

When a police officer pulled up to the scene, Johnson said the situation deescalated and she approached the officer to tell him how rude, unrealistic and impolite the firefighter was being.

The officer apologized on the firefighter’s behalf and Johnson was able to get back in her vehicle and proceed into town to take her child to therapy.

After Johnson’s encounter with the firefighter, she contacted Mayor Louise Smith, who said that she was being turned away because the city was out of gas. But Johnson said she saw plenty of people getting gas. Johnson believed Mayor Smith was given false information about the city running out of gas.

“I got off the phone with her and drove around and saw multiple stations giving out gas,” said Johnson.

Johnson got in touch with Mayor Smith again and proceeded to let her know Smith gave her false information.

The unnamed individual at the meeting pleaded to the Board to rectify the situation because it put a black eye on the city, especially for a city that needed help after Hurricane Katrina and will need help again in future emergencies.

After the public comments were heard, the Board entered executive session. The firefighter in question has not been named at press time, and a decision on the matter has not been released.

Attempts to contact Mayor Smith or Fire Chief Jason Bannister have been unsuccessful at press time.

A meeting to discuss the matter further was set for 4 p.m. Wednesday.