Waveland and Bay St Louis featured on NPR All Things Considered


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  1. Andrea Jones says:

    Search turns up frustration

    Mississippi: Rescue team asks, ‘Where are all the people?’

    By Abigail Tucker

    Sun National Staff

    Originally published September 4, 2005

    WAVELAND, MISS. — When the Maryland rescue crew rode into this tiny seaside community before dawn Wednesday, the morning mist parted to reveal hundreds of cars on the side of the highway, all empty, as though the drivers had spontaneously pulled over to stretch their legs.

    "Where are all the people?" was all Melissa Hickerson of Frederick could think.

    Yesterday morning, they found one of them: the body of an elderly man lying deep in the piney woods here, still strapped into a life vest that didn’t help against a 20-foot surge of water. He was the first victim of Hurricane Katrina alive or dead that they have encountered in four full days of searching the collapsed beach houses and thick woods of Hancock County, where the storm’s eye wall screeched through.

    Still, about 30 firefighters from Montgomery County Fire and Rescue slog along in the drifting sand and Mississippi mud so thick that when it dries it stiffens everything it touches.

    "The devastation is total here," said John Tippett of Damascus, who leads the group, whose members are specially trained in search and rescue. Some of them assisted at the Pentagon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and in the aftermath of other hurricanes.

    Called by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Maryland Task Force One, as the group is called, drove 20 hours nonstop in hopes of saving someone. They’re looking for survivors. But almost a week after the storm hit the Gulf Coast, that prospect looks less likely.

    Yesterday, the team, which includes specialists in structural damage and hazardous materials, left its dogs behind. They’re trained only to sniff out the living, and they were "worn out," said Tippett.

    In the 100-degree heat where much of the shade has been smashed down or washed away, the searchers were trusting their own noses to find bodies.

    The trouble is, said a Mississippi police officer who accompanied the Montgomery team, in this weather the mud itself begins to smell like death. And mud is everywhere. It covers the searchers’ boots until they feel like bricks, and it fills the grooves of their knuckles.

    They look down at the ground constantly, searching for V-shaped alligator tracks and footprints that might belong to the missing.

    The Maryland crew, among hundreds of rescue workers laboring here, clambers from house to house, over downed trees and flattened roofs. Looking for victims, they insert thin cameras into holes in the wreckage or probe the darkness with sticks.

    They also perform what are called hailing searches when they call out and wait a moment in silence.

    No one has answered them.

    "It’s frustrating to look and look and look and find nothing," Tippett said.

    In fact, they find a lot: trombone cases and fiddler crabs and a statue of the Virgin Mary, whole and perfect in a pile of toppled palm trees. In one home, they discovered a firefighter’s helmet and axe.

    They have unearthed dozens of American flags, which they have hung from trees or pieces of driftwood and on the pole in front of Waveland’s vanished firehouse. Yesterday morning, they folded one flag into a neat triangle and gave it to their one victim’s family, which had just returned.

    The crew members approach every household with hope. They break down locked doors with cinderblocks and smash windows with axes.

    "Fire department!" cries Dan Ogren of Frederick, searching a forested neighborhood near the Jordan River yesterday. "Can anyone hear me?"

    The woods are silent except for the baying of lost dogs.

    And so the team moved on, the mud making their feet heavier with every step. The work is slow and tedious. They search each home, spray-painting an X when they’re through. Yesterday, they spent a half-hour dissecting a pine tree to investigate a stench that might have been a dead alligator.

    "Never give up hope," said Larry Murray of Columbia. "I believe in miracles."

    Because so many search teams are combing the area, there’s confusion. Sometimes the Maryland team is assigned to areas that have been searched. Sometimes their areas are too small, and they sit, awaiting orders.

    Their job is complicated by maps that don’t show all the dirt roads where people live in shacks and trailers.

    On Friday evening, there was a glimmer of hope. They received several tips about human voices coming from a blasted ranch house close to the Waveland beach. Neighbors had heard a person cry out. A rescue team from Alabama had reported someone moaning there, and a Mississippi sheriff had also detected sounds.

    They set their dogs on the wreckage, pulling back splintered boards and probing dark voids.

    "Hello," they yelled. "Is anyone here?"

    All was quiet.

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    The splintered, tattered remains of Waveland are deserted apart from the Hancock County Justice Court, where a team of amateur radio hams help a search and rescue team from Virginia.

    On Thursday morning, they pulled out two more corpses. “We’ve recovered 25 or 30 bodies, just in Waveland,” a grim and unshaven Tom Longo, 46, the town’s Mayor, said. “If they were in the way of the tidal surge, they didn’t stand a chance. We’re 20ft above sea level here and we still have 15ft of water. This place will never be the same again.”

    There is only one way to leave the former town of Waveland: the same way you entered. The Bay St Louis bridge, after all, is now only 47ft long: it used to span two miles.

    The last thing you see in Waveland is a message daubed in black paint on a piece of splintered chipboard. God Help Us, it says.

    Underneath, in a moment of black humour, the signmaker had added: “And Help State Farm insurance, too.”

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    Hancock County death toll: 50 in Waveland, at least 14 in Bay St. Louis

    By Riva Brown

    rvbrown@clarionledger.com

    Dozens are dead in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in Waveland and Bay St. Louis, two Hancock County communities just minutes from New Orleans.

    In Waveland alone, the death toll is approaching 50, Mayor Tommy Longo said.

    Officials said today that Edmond Fahey Funeral Home in Bay St. Louis has at least 14 of the storm-related dead in a cooler powered by a generator.

    Hancock County Coroner Nancy Stiggett said rescue workers have not been able to get to some bodies because of downed trees.

    Through what’s left of Hancock County roads, the stench of death is pronounced today as rescue workers make their rounds.

    New Orleans Mayor Mayor Ray Nagin said today that Katrina very likely killed thousands in the city.

    A mud-caked 4th District U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, who lost his home in Bay St. Louis, was on the phone at the distribution center on U.S. 90 with the National Guard office in Washington, D.C., trying to get planeloads of supplies flown in.

    "Things are going to start moving. The magnitude of it is mindboggling. I’m guessing tens of thousands of homes are gone," said Taylor. who spent the night sleeping on a boat in the middle of Mississippi 603.

    Taylor is trying to get body bags and a portable morgue to the county, as well.

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    Mississippi Death Toll Rises

    Meanwhile, in neighboring Mississippi, authorities now say that at least 185 people have died. In Hancock County alone, Sheriff Eddie Jennings put the death toll at 85, with 60 people dead in Pearlington, 22 in Waveland, two in Bay St. Louis and one body that had washed up on the beach. In neighboring Harrison County, which is home to Gulfport and Biloxi, officials say that 100 bodies have been found. All of these numbers are expected to grow as search and rescue operations continue. The city of Gulfport was almost destroyed, and Biloxi was heavily damaged. Dozens of patients from a Biloxi hospital were evacuated by the U.S. Air Force on Wednesday. Patients including a ward full of women with high-risk pregnancies were transported from the hard-hit area by Air Force cargo planes to San Antonio, Texas. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour flew over his state’s ravaged coastline and likened it to Hiroshima in 1945. In Alabama more than 400,000 homes and businesses are without power, while Florida reported 11 deaths.

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    Friday, September 02, 2005

    Hancock County info

    We’ll be bringing you more from Jimmie Brewer’s trip to Hancock County, but one thing we’ve gotten ready is a list of names of folks he saw over there. Here it is (we’re not going to waste time double-checking spelling for speed’s sake):

    Donnie Martin

    Bohn Hall

    JOhnny and Kelly Muniz

    Emmit Hotard

    Jacqueline Daigle

    Bob Carver

    Tom Enders

    Mary Kraft

    Henry and Alice Burkhardt

    Jeff Jasby

    Brenda Smith

    Mark Derussy

    Russel Jones

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    Waveland, Mississippi woman dies after choosing to stay home in storm

    As search and rescue efforts continue along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, there are stories of desperation and despair;but, there are also stories of strength and courage.

    Workers looking for the dead in Hancock County, Mississippi, sadly found another body on Wednesday.

    "She was feisty,the feistiest woman walking God’s green earth," says Maureen Burnett abut her mother. Doris Murphy was a feisty spirit quieted by Hurricane Katrina.

    A search and rescue team helped Burnett locate her mother’s home in the mountain of rubble near the beach in Waveland. Burnett says she knew her mom was in the rubble. "She wouldn’t leave without Buddy and Maude. They were her babies."

    Burnett says she made her mom leave before Hurricane Ivan hit. "She’s never forgiven me for that."

    But this time mom simply refused to walk away. "She was 76 years old and she just thinks they talk too much about it and get everybody in a fury about it," says the daughter now without a mom.

    The passing of Murphy makes one more death to add to the count which now stands at 16 in Waveland according to Chief James Farnell. "Makes me sick," says the chief. "She should have gotten out."

    "We can’t force evacuate people…God, I wish I had just done what I could to get them out, taken them away in handcuffs if we’d had to."

    But there are also stories of miracles, like the one Richard Harris heard about.

    "A woman got in her car during the hurricane and she crawled through her back seat and got in the trunk. When she got in there the car started floating and just a little while ago, they found her in there, because should couldn’t get back out through the seat. They saw her arm in the window, popped the trunk, and found her alive."

    Alive and well and counting her blessings.

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    Residents talk of loss of Bay St. Louis Community

    Bay St. Louis was known for its charm and beauty. On Wednesday, the city woke up from its bruising battle with Hurricane Katrina.

    In a place called Chapel Hill, there’s little left from the skirmish. "We just have nothing," remarked one resident.

    It has yet to sink in for Barbara Rucker. Rucker lost a home and a sports car. But this retired school teacher is far more concerned about the people who lost so much more. "There are people here who depend on the area for jobs. They’ve lived here their whole lives and everything is here. I’m a retired school teacher from Arizona and I have my retirement. "

    Another resident was still in shock. When asked to comment, it was clear she was still too upset to say anything at all.

    "You pour your heart and your life into something.."says Chet LeBlanc.

    Chett LeBlanc’s life was Chapel Hill. He built it and one of the first things he put up was a chapel.

    "Most developments have swimming pools and recreation areas and that kind of thing. We wanted this place to be more of a quiet, secluded place." says LeBlanc

    It was anything but peaceful when Katrina slammed ashore with backbreaking winds.

    She tore everything up, except the chapel. "It’s wonderful to see it still standing here." says LeBlanc.

    "One of the things we did on every property before we started construction, we had it blessed by a priest. That was the first one blessed, and I’m not surprised at all. It’s God’s hand in all this." says LeBlanc.

    A three story home was not so blessed. The first two floors were obliterated. The third floor, well Hurricane Katrina carried it through the air some 500 feet down the road.

    LeBlanc describes what he saw and heard. "Before we heard it there was a lot of water came through, like 30 or 40 foot of water. I didn’t know if the water could take that and not hurt these(other homes)." says LeBlanc

    Barbara Rucker says she’s headed back to the Southwest. "I will take my memories… my pictures and things that I can salvage… and I will move to Arizona."

    LeBlanc says the homes in Chapel Hill were worth between $15 and $20 million.

    His next move? Clean it all up, and start over.

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    WAVELAND, Mississippi (AP) — Hurricane Katrina seemed to take a particular vengeance out on Waveland, Mississippi.

    The storm virtually took out Waveland, prompting state officials to say it took a harder hit from the wind and water than any other town along the coast.

    Rescue workers there Wednesday found shell-shocked survivors scavenging what they could from homes and businesses that were completely washed away.

    The air smelled of natural gas, lumber and rotting flesh.

    "Total devastation. There’s nothing left," said Brian Mollere, a resident who was left cut and bruised. Katrina tore his clothes off and he had to dig in the debris for shorts and a T-shirt.

    Katrina dragged away nearly every home and business within a half mile of the beach, leaving driveways and walkways to nowhere.

    The water scattered random reminders of what had been normal, quiet lives: family photos, Barbie dolls, jazz records, whiskey bottles.

    Fourteen members of Waveland’s police department survived the storm by hanging on desperately to a spindly bush. (Full story)

    The town of 7,000 about 35 miles east of New Orleans has been partially cut off because the U.S. 90 bridge over the Bay of St. Louis was destroyed.

    There is no power, no phones, no way out — and nowhere to go. (See the video report of National Guard relief efforts in Mississippi — 1:18)

    State officials would not confirm a death toll in the town, but Mayor Tommy Longo estimated that at least 50 residents died, The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson reported.

    City Hall is gone, with nothing but a knee-high mural of a beach scene still standing.

    Mollere had set up camp on the wreckage where his family’s two-story home and jewelry store once stood. A couple of chairs and a sheet of plastic protected him and his dog from the sun and spits of rain.

    Mollere doesn’t usually smoke, but he sucked on a Kool menthol and collected bottles of whiskey and Barq’s root beer that had washed up nearby.

    He recalled swimming out of the store with the dog as the water rose and finding shelter in a house that survived. "If it had been night, I would have drowned," he said.

    His 80-year-old mother did drown in the storm. She had evacuated with some family to a grocery store in neighboring Bay St. Louis.

    As her family members swam away to escape the storm, his mother, who used an oxygen tank, stayed behind.

    Mollere’s father was a local folk hero for being one of the few people to stay behind in Waveland during Hurricane Camille in 1969. The elder Mollere swam along and grabbed onto a white horse, and both were saved.

    On Wednesday, Jim Clack held the hand of his elderly mother, Mercedes Clack, and led her through the rubble of her Waveland home.

    "You might fall, Mama," he said gently.

    Mercedes Clack, blocking the glare with wraparound sunglasses, said of her splintered home: "Oh, that was a beautiful house. Remember it?"

    She brightened when she found an antique radio and a few of her jazz records. "Do you think they can be salvaged?" she asked her son.

    Other sweaty, mud-caked survivors camped out in shopping center parking lots in Waveland and Bay St. Louis, some using tents or mattresses they had been taken from stores.

    People lined up to get ice and bottled water distributed by emergency workers.

    Frank Lombardo said he and his fiancee, Bridgette Favre, tried to weather the storm in their apartment, but moved to a high school in Bay St. Louis when the wind and rain grew too strong.

    He said he broke into the gym’s football supply room to find cloth bandages to wrap some elderly people’s wounds.

    Marcel and Shannon Whavers and their 2-year-old daughter, Ayanna, stood Wednesday at the end of the devastated bridge that connected Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian. They said they felt cut off from the world.

    "We’re in trouble for a long time," said Shannon Whavers, 29.

    "What are you going to do?" said her 30-year-old husband. "We saw a guy just lying in the highway, not knowing where to go."

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    Mississippi Coast Areas Wiped Out

    (CBS/AP) As officials say that every structure up to a half mile inland from Mississippi’s shore was obliterated by Hurricane Katrina, word comes of a small town that seems to have felt Katrina’s wrath hardest.

    The storm virtually wiped Waveland, Miss., off the map, prompting state officials to say it took a harder hit from the wind and water than any other town along the coast.

    Rescue workers there Wednesday found shell-shocked survivors scavenging what they could from homes and businesses that were completely washed away. The air smelled of natural gas, lumber and rotting flesh.

    "Total devastation. There’s nothing left," said Brian Mollere, a resident who was left cut and bruised. Katrina tore his clothes off and he had to dig in the debris for shorts and a T-shirt.

    The town of 7,000 about 35 miles east of New Orleans has been partially cut off because the U.S. 90 bridge over the Bay of St. Louis was destroyed. There is no power, no phones, no way out — and nowhere to go.

    Areas all along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast were declared public health emergency spots, due to unsafe drinking water, CBS News Early Show anchor Harry Smith reports from Bay St. Louis, Miss. At least 121 people are known dead from the storm.

    And looting isn’t only a problem in New Orleans, Smith reports. All along the coast, especially in areas hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina, looters are taking goods.

    In Waveland, Katrina dragged away nearly every home and business within a half mile of the beach, leaving driveways and walkways to nowhere. The water scattered random reminders of what had been normal, quiet lives: family photos, Barbie dolls, jazz records, whiskey bottles.

    State officials are now estimating that 90 percent of the structures from the shoreline to one half-mile inland are totally destroyed, CBS News correspondent Jim Acosta reports.

    Hurricane Katrina has spread the suffering among the rich and poor alike, turning waterfront mansions along the Gulf Coast into million-dollar junkyards.

    Homes along Beach Boulevard in Pascagoula, Miss., are now little more than concrete slabs heaped high with debris. One woman says she and her husband are digging through the rubble of their place, hoping to find the family silver.

    A neighbor says Senator Trent Lott’s home was among those hit. He says there’s nothing left.

    Gov. Haley Barbour tells the Early Show’s Harry Smith that "The streets are totally covered with lumber, debris, shingles, furniture and clothes so that you can’t see any asphalt for miles around."

    It is the total destruction of certain areas of Mississippi that is overwhelming rescue workers, Barbour told CBS.

    "This calamity overwhelmed the system. It’s just as simple as that. We’re making a little progress every day, and we’re going to keep a little progress every day," he said.

    A woman stocking up at one of the few grocery stores still open in Pascagoula bought some bleach, salt, detergent and a six-pack of Red Dog beer. And she says if she had a whole case, she’d drink it, too.

    All over the state, rescue teams continued efforts to find survivors and survey the damage. Ambulances roamed through the passable streets of devastated places such as Biloxi, Gulfport, Waveland and Bay St. Louis, in some cases speeding past corpses in hopes of saving people trapped in flooded and crumbled buildings.

    Tempers were beginning to flare in the aftermath of the storm. Police said a man fatally shot his sister in the head over a bag of ice in Hattiesburg, Miss.

    President Bush flew over New Orleans and parts of Mississippi’s hurricane-blasted coastline in Air Force One. Turning to his aides, he said: "It’s totally wiped out … it’s devastating, it’s got to be doubly devastating on the ground."

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    ‘This storm just took (us) off the map’

    Waveland, Miss. — Walking along Waveland’s main street, it’s hard to see the town in resident Orville Ferrell’s mind. Just over there, he says pointing insistently, was Ricky’s, which packed in seafood lovers from miles around. Over there was a Realtor. Just past city hall was a little place that sold antiques.

    He’s emphatic, giving details he believes will help conjure up the place. A story here. Some history there.

    But after Hurricane Katrina, all of that is gone. In its place is a nest of uprooted trees, shorn lumber, and a few fragments of people’s lives: A gate without a house. A rope swing wrapped around a fallen oak. Children’s toys.

    In a town that prided itself on surviving the worst that the Gulf Coast could dish up, Katrina may be the storm that Waveland couldn’t ride out.

    The storm leveled a quarter-mile swath from the beach to the railroad tracks. The post office, city hall and almost all of the main street are gone. Many homes farther inland are so badly damaged that they will have to be condemned, officials say.

    It is the worst damage sustained in any community from the worst storm ever to hit this coast.

    And though some vow to rebuild, many residents now say the town they are leaving behind is dead.

    Clayton Stieffel’s family has lived here for three generations. Now, his mother is going to Natchez, Miss., his brother to Birmingham, Ala., and he and his family will be leaving soon for Clearwater, Fla.

    "I hate to say it but I don’t think it’s going to recover," Stieffel, 44, said. "This storm just took (Waveland) right off the map."

    One of the locals’ most common responses to the scale of destruction here is utter surprise. And the most common reason for it is the fact that the town survived Camille, the devastating 1969 hurricane that until now had set the standard for the worst storm residents were ever likely to face.

    Preparing for Katrina, locals took cars across the railroad tracks that bisect the town, because water had never made it that far. And many decided it was safe to stay in houses if they were standing when Camille passed.

    Often, it was a mistake.

    Though a total death count for the area hasn’t yet been released, at least 40 deaths have been tallied in surrounding Hancock County. Search and rescue officials say the toll is certain to go much higher.

    For Pauline Conaway, there had been so many previous storms and so many false alarms that when the warning about Katrina came, she and her husband thought about riding it out. When they finally left, all she took was dirty laundry — something she could do while waiting out the storm in Jackson, Miss., farther inland.

    Sitting on an empty lot Saturday, her head in her hands, Conaway was amazed at the capriciousness of a storm that could slice her house off right off its foundation. Her attic was on the railroad tracks a quarter-mile away, Christmas decorations still inside. A plastic pool slide survived. So did a whiskey bottle.

    "It just doesn’t make any sense," she said.

    Conaway, though she’d been here 16 years, was a relative newcomer. She remembers Fourth of July fireworks on the beach, one of the many where people were building luxurious homes and paying high prices for gorgeous seaside views.

    Daniel Bowens, 55, had lived in Waveland all his life, across the tracks in a neighborhood of low-slung houses and minimum-wage paychecks.

    When the storm came, he escaped out a back window just as a rising surge of water flooded the front room. He survived by climbing on the roof, then waded to safety. Along the way he found two dead neighbors, a mother and a son.

    With no money and no way to communicate with relatives outside southern Mississippi, Bowens has been living with a half-dozen other residents in the drive-through lane of a deserted bank.

    They sleep on mattresses Bowens says they’ve looted from a nearby furniture store, like his new white sneakers. They’re the only clothes he owns that aren’t ruined.

    If he can raise the money, Bowens said he’ll go to his sister’s in Louisiana. He won’t come back to Waveland.

    "I’ve learned my lesson," Bowens said.

    Many residents say that even if Waveland does rise from the rubble, it won’t the same town. Developers have been pushing for more large-scale developments here: high-rise condos and luxury boat marinas.

    With most of the town’s historic landmarks gone, residents say, there is nothing to stand in their way.

    The ones who have been through it or who know the history — Betsy, Camille, and the famous hurricane of ’47 — shake their heads at the idea that a voracious appetite for beachfront property may start the whole cycle over again.

    At least one old timer plans to stay — but under one condition.

    Brian Mollere’s family goes back generations here. His 80-year-old mother drowned in the storm. Just days after Mollere’s house was destroyed, he was back at the same spot, camping under a mud-splattered canopy with a cooler of cold beer at his side.

    "This is home. I know everybody who passes. I could go to some air-conditioned building, but it wouldn’t be as comfortable."

    And his plan now?

    "I’ll put a nice camping trailer out here with a nice truck," he said. "And if they say ‘storm,’ I’m gone."

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