August 30, 2005

‘Our tsunami,’ Mississippi hurricane survivors say

By Matt Daily

BILOXI, Mississippi (Reuters) - "It was like our tsunami,"
Vincent Creel, a spokesman for the Mississippi Gulf Coast city
of Biloxi, said on Tuesday.

When Hurricane Katrina roared ashore on the U.S. Gulf Coast
on Monday, it sent a 30-foot (9-meter) storm surge into Biloxi.

Many people were probably trapped in their homes by the
ferocious wall of water.

"It's going to be in the hundreds," said Creel, when asked
how many people may have died. Police said around 30 people
died in one Biloxi apartment complex alone when the storm surge
brought it crashing down.

"Camille was 200, and we're looking at a lot more than
that," Creel said, referring to Hurricane Camille, which
devastated the area in 1969 and killed 256 people.

But Katrina's storm surge beat all the high-water marks
left by Camille, one of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit
the United States, residents and local officials said.

"The cadaver dogs are due in this afternoon," said Creel.

Biloxi, a waterfront city of about 50,000 people, was a
seafood-industry hub and sleepy summer resort for southerners
early last century. It began to boom in the 1990s when
Mississippi legalized dockside gambling, which opened a new
economic frontier in the poorest U.S. state.

Now, the town faces a long recovery. All that was left on
Tuesday of hundreds of homes were the foundations. Waterfront
casinos had been crushed, their top floors stripped off. The
beach was littered with steel girders. City parks were 4-feet

deep in debris.

Dazed and tear-streaked survivors wander aimlessly, asking
the few police or firefighters around where they could find
some food and water.

They tell stories of people hanging from trees for three
hours half a mile inland, waiting for the swirling water to

"We almost drowned in our house," said Linda Boldt, 57.

"We just moved here from Florida to get away from the
hurricanes. We have no place to stay. Our car, our truck, our
van full of furniture. We lost everything."

She waved at others combing through the rubble-strewn

"I don't know what's going to happen to these people," she

Creel said the power grid of Biloxi and its water and
sewage systems were destroyed.

"We've had widespread looting," he added.

He said even the police and fire department had raided a
grocery store for supplies as emergency teams worked triple
shifts to hunt for survivors.

"We're essentially looting ourselves but we're keeping
track of it."

Several police officers and firefighters said they had left
their families when the storm came in and they were called out
to search and rescue operations.

"There's a lot of guys out there who don't even know where
their family members are right now," said one police officer.

Cay Wiser, another survivor, pointed to the town around

"It's demolished, but we're alive," she said. She forecast
a lengthy effort to rebuild. "It'll probably take us years,
maybe several years."