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‘I just can’t grasp it all,’ minister & Katrina victim says

PASCAGOULA, Miss. (BP)–The hurricane shutters still cling tight to the second-story windows, but the entire first floor — including the exterior walls — are missing. Beach Boulevard in Pascagoula, Miss., has been the showcase for beautiful homes overlooking the coastal road. Judges, businessmen and even Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott have called this street home.

But not anymore.

Entire floors are missing from homes, while others have nothing but a foundation and rubble. Clothes dangle from trees, pieces of broken china dot the roadsides and swimming pools are full of brick, broken lumber and mud.

Closer to downtown, the destruction isn’t as obvious. Homes are intact, with trees down and some roof damage.

The locals compare stories as they stand in line waiting for food at First Baptist Church.

“I had six feet of water and mud in my house,” one woman said.

“I only had three feet,” another said, “but my daughter had water all the way to her attic.”

Local officials estimate 90 percent of the homes had at least some damage. It will be months and even years before the damage is repaired. In the meantime, rescue workers and residents are dealing with the lack of drinkable water. Sanitation issues are at the top of many lists.

“We’ve got to get some water in here. We don’t have water to drink, but we also can’t flush toilets,” said Dennis Ray Smith, associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Pascagoula. Rumors fly that water trucks are on their way but no one knows when or where.

Disaster relief volunteers are making do with the little water they have available. “We brought some with us and we heat it to wash the dishes and use it for cooking,” said Gwen Newman, a volunteer from Union Baptist Church in Winder, Ga.

“I know down the road we’ll be OK but I just can’t grasp it all right now,” Smith said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. Where are people going to live? Even if they could go to work, how would they get ready for work?”

Northrup Grumman, a shipyard that is one of the largest employers in Mississippi, is headquartered in Pascagoula. It is shut down and no word has come to this town about when or if the 12,000 employees can return to work.

Disaster relief teams from Georgia provided a meal Wednesday afternoon for 3,000 people. On Thursday they began serving two meals a day to people who come to the church for food, as well as 4,000 meals for delivery to Red Cross shelters.

Cleanup and recovery units have collected more than 300 requests for help.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Elaine Bryant, a veteran disaster relief volunteer from Providence Baptist Church in Rico, Ga. “They’re desperate. They’ve got three or four feet of mud in their houses, they have little children and nowhere to go. They’re so appreciative of what we can do.”

David Stewart, a homeowner who lives on the same block as the church, was one of the first to receive help from a cleanup and recovery unit.

“I’ve got a 40-foot pecan tree down in my yard and on my house. These guys are great. They’re cutting the tree and they put a tarp on my house. They’ve worked all day. It’s just wonderful,” Stewart said.

Disaster relief volunteers will be needed in the coastal Mississippi area for at least another couple of months, said Kay Cassibry, director of disaster relief for the Mississippi Baptist Convention. “We’ll need feeding units at least until everyone has electricity and water. But we’ll need cleanup and recovery for a long time.”

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  • Sherri Brown