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Published: Sunday, 9/4/2005

Mississippi town hopes to rebuild with baby steps

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

PASCAGOULA, Miss. Baby steps. That's what the citizens of Pascagoula were thinking about yesterday, five days after Hurricane Katrina destroyed about 60 percent of the homes in this Gulf Coast city of 30,000, halfway between Biloxi and Mobile, Ala.

Duone Reese and his wife, Angela, wait for fuel at a gasoline station in Pascagoula, Miss. They arrived early and waited nearly three hourse because fuel is scarce. Duone Reese and his wife, Angela, wait for fuel at a gasoline station in Pascagoula, Miss. They arrived early and waited nearly three hourse because fuel is scarce.
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Hour-by-hour. Day-by-day. Month-by-month. First surviving, then rebuilding.

For Kenny Burroughs and Alfred Grayer, yesterday's step was rising at 5 a.m. to be at the front of the line at the Fast Trac Exxon, the second gas station to open all week.

Mr. Grayer waited in line at another service station the previous day and the station closed when he was at the pump.

"That's why I made sure I was here early today," he said as the line stretched to about 70 cars along the main thoroughfare, U.S. 90, by 8 a.m.

The line would have been longer, but many residents lost their vehicles in the storm. Still, with gasoline supplies exhausted, National Guard units and local authorities stood guard near pumps.

Although much of Pascagoula remained without power yesterday, Mr. Burroughs and Mr. Grayer said the lights in their water-damaged homes came on Friday night. Another baby step.

However, like many Pascagoula residents, the men are employed by Northrup Grumman Ship Systems, and the plant was heavily damaged and shut down. Mr. Burroughs and Mr. Grayer do not know when or even if they ll work again.

I heard rumors of compensation, but I don t know about that, Mr. Grayer said.

Said Mr. Burroughs: I can t get in touch with them.

Pascagoula s plight, though not as serious as Biloxi and Gulfport, nevertheless was critical and underreported in the hours after the storm subsided, according to Jackson County Deputy Sheriff Don Stewart. He said Katrina crippled the county s communications system, severing it from the outside.

To the rescue came the Brooksville, Fla., Emergency Response team, which arrived midweek and established a radio network for authorities to use. Other Florida towns, recalling the assistance they received after four hurricanes struck their state last year, sent police and state troopers to Pascagoula.

If it wasn t for them being here, we d all be on the lawn of the courthouse passed out and it would be total chaos [in this county], the deputy sheriff said.

Even though the streets were more crowded yesterday, Pascagoula remained mostly closed and shuttered. Wal-Mart reopened, as did the Lowe s. There was a line outside the Waffle House on U.S. 90. But that was about it.

With grocers closed, food became scarce. Perishable goods have long since spoiled. The city s water system was down too, creating another problem, especially with daytime temperatures reaching the 90s.

Aid workers are trying to help, but they face a daunting task.

Members of the Red Cross yesterday passed out food from a mobile truck that made its way through some of the city s broken neighborhoods. The Salavation Army set up a food station at a shopping strip on U.S. 90. And a number of churches served box lunches and hot meals.

A hurricane evacuee sleeps outside an abandoned motel along U.S. 90 in Pascagoula, Miss., where aid workers and authorities are trying to deal with limited supplies of food and water. A hurricane evacuee sleeps outside an abandoned motel along U.S. 90 in Pascagoula, Miss., where aid workers and authorities are trying to deal with limited supplies of food and water.
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Eugene Eubanks, pastor of the Pascagoula Church of God on Chicot Road, which was gutted by Katrina, said he received a surprise visit on Wednesday from a Daphne, Ala., minister, Jerry Taylor, who offered to help. On Thursday, Mr. Taylor and members of his church set up a food kitchen in front of the church. They served 900 meals Thursday night, 2,200 meals on Friday, and 1,000 meals yesterday, according to Mr. Eubanks, who said his church has about 100 members.

In the midst of this tragedy, this great ministry has sprung forth. We re seeing people from all walks of life some of them who hadn t eaten [much] since the storm, Mr. Eubanks said, as people lined up for bowls of chili.

This is a blessing, said Leroy Magee as he waited in the shade for his wife to bring him his meal.

Mr. Taylor also arranged for a tractor-trailer load of foodstuffs from Operation Compassion in Cleveland, Tenn., to be delivered on Friday to Mr. Eubanks church. The food another truckload is expected next week will be distributed to the neighborhood, said Mr. Eubanks, who does not expect the supply to last long.

Local police and National Guard units also offered relief support. Lt. Paul Leonard of the Pascagoula Police Department organized distribution of cleaning supplies to residents whose homes survived.

We re having our officers deliver them to the neighborhoods because a lot of people have no cars, he said.

The department suffered, too, said Lieutenant Leonard. The station flooded and one-third of the department s vehicles were destroyed.

It was a breezeless day, and as the heat grew, pesky black flies and gnats emerged. Nevertheless, members of the 186th National Guard unit from Dothan, Ala., dressed in full gear, made their way up Pascagoula Street dispensing ice and water.

The storm struck from the Gulf four blocks away, sending a swell that reached over 25 feet, according to some estimates, into the city s southern neighborhoods.

Sandy Ford asks National Guardsmen for more ice and water near her home in Pascagoula, Miss. Her home was cut off from main roads by debris and she is caring for 10 storm victims. Sandy Ford asks National Guardsmen for more ice and water near her home in Pascagoula, Miss. Her home was cut off from main roads by debris and she is caring for 10 storm victims.
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At the northern end of Pascagoula Street, the damage was less severe. Houses remained standing but had significant flooding. Mattresses, appliances, furniture, and general debris were stacked in front of every home.

Where Pascagoula Street meets the Gulf, Katrina s fury is clear. Its 100-plus-mph winds picked up the just-renovated second story of Buzzy Largilliere s home and impaled it on a pair of power line poles that somehow remained standing. The first floor of the home, which was built in 1876 and had survived uncounted storms, vanished.

It s hard, said Linda Olson, Mr. Largilliere s sister, as she searched for valuables she hoped were left amid the debris. We all grew up in this house.

That was my grandmother s house right there, she said, pointing to a two-story home turned on its side across the street. The nearby Gulf, so angry and lethal five days ago, was as placid as a dammed-up stream as she spoke.

Ms. Olson s home was seriously damaged and her sister s home, one block from Mr. Largilliere s, was destroyed.

I m sure Buzzy will rebuild and [my sister] will rebuild, and we ll gut our house and start over, she said.

Along Beach Drive, most of the million-dollar homes, including one owned by Sen. Trent Lott, were destroyed or gone.

No one is saying how many people from Pascagoula and Jackson County died in the storm. Coroner Vickie Broadus is not releasing figures, according to Deputy Sheriff Stewart, in part because all the bodies have not yet been identified or found. Also, earlier in the week, word spread that a prominent Pascagoula physician, Dr. Steven Fineburg, and his wife were found dead, which turned out not to be true. As a result, authorities want to be cautious in releasing information on fatalities, the deputy sheriff said.

Looting remains a problem in Pascagoula. Almost every damaged home features a sign that reads: If you loot we will shoot.

Sonny Odom has been guarding the heavily damaged Kim s Convenience Store for owner and neighbor Thuam Pham all week. Tuesday morning, a group of youths turned up at the store and were reluctant to leave.

I took a shot and word got around town. They didn t come back, Mr. Odom said.

Despite all the cooperation, hunger and fatigue are creating a group of edgy, unpredictable people.

Shemesia Broughton, standing in line outside Hancock Bank, said gasoline has been siphoned from her car and she was treated rudely at the local hospital last week.

I just want people to calm down. Everybody lost something. All of us are in this together. Some people need to thank God we are alive, she said.

Informed of Ms. Broughton s comments, Lieutenant Leonard lifted his sunglasses, revealing a pair of weary, bloodshot eyes.

We endeavor to persevere, he said.

Contact George J. Tanber at: gtanber@theblade.com or 734-241-3610.



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