Search and rescue teams have found gas cans, groceries and other items believed to have belonged to a Wilkinson County man who has been missing for two weeks, but no signs of him or his boat.
Wesley Berry, 66, hasn’t been seen since June 25, when he left his home on the western shore of Foster Lake in the middle of the night to get provisions.
Capt. Kallum Herrington of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks said Berry’s family reported him missing on June 30.
For months, Berry’s home had been isolated by the flooding of the nearby Mississippi River, making it only accessible by boat.
Power to the area was cut off in November after floodwaters rose as high as powerlines, according to a customer service representative for Southwest Electric, the rural electric cooperative servicing the area.
Dorothy Foster, who runs Sonny’s Bait Shop at Foster Lake with her husband Sonny, said Berry lives near an area of Foster Lake, which abuts the oxbow Lake Mary, that is known locally as The Rocks.
She said Berry often made the trip by boat to his truck, which he left parked on Lake Mary Road about a mile to the south.
From there he would drive to Woodville to purchase gas, diesel and other provisions, Foster said. He would then travel back to Lake Mary Road, where he would leave his truck before making his way home across the high water.
Foster said Berry had been complaining recently about the inconvenience of the flooding and the expense of having to power his home with generators.
Early June 26, Berry apparently reached his truck and made the drive into Woodville. Wilkinson County Emergency Management Agency director Mattie Powell told WLBT he was last seen on surveillance camera at a gas pump at Treppendahl’s Super Foods, a convenience store at the intersection of highways 61 and 24 in Woodville, at 1:30 that morning. He purchased 75 gallons of diesel, presumably to power his generators. He then drove back toward Foster Lake.
“The last time anyone was in contact with him it was his son who talked to him (June 25),” Foster said. “After they reported him missing they called in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.”
Some speculate that a bad storm may have contributed to Berry’s disappearance.
“We did have really bad weather” the night of his disappearance, Foster said.
A late-night storm hit the hardest a little after 4 a.m., Foster said.
“If he left Treppendahl’s at about 1:30 a.m., it would’ve taken him long enough to get back that he probably would have been caught in the storm,” she said.
Foster said Berry used an aluminum boat to make the journey between his truck and his house and she called the boat potentially dangerous.
“When they sink, they sink,” she said.
On Friday search teams at Foster Lake recovered the diesel tank they believe Berry used to purchased fuel with in Woodville, along with a can of gasoline, a wooden paddle, a bag of lemons, eggs, cigarettes and a loaf of bread snagged in the branches of a cypress tree, Herrington said.
The search for Berry involves several civil and law enforcement agencies from at least three states.
The Wilkinson County Sheriff’s office and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP) are being aided in their search by a helicopter provided by the sheriff’s department of West Feliciana Parish, La. Dive teams from Florida and Louisiana were also involved in the search last week, Herrington said.
The helicopter was brought into use on the morning of July 1. Cadaver dogs from Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana were brought onto the search after that.
Herrington said wildlife officials had been involved in the investigation since 4:30 p.m. on June 26, when they were first notified of the missing persons report. Officials used drones to survey the area from above in addition to the helicopter provided by West Feliciana Parish.
Employees from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola are assisting in the search by dredging the bottom of Foster Lake, she added.
Foster said Berry’s son, Wesley Jr., is in the U.S. Navy and he has been using sonar to search for him. She said one of his Navy buddies plans to bring a sonar torpedo next week to continue the search.
Search teams continued Monday morning and Herrington did not rule out recovering Berry alive. He said wildlife officials will have continue to have search boats out on the water.