Mississippi residents welcome signs of recovery

Electricity, phone service, water gradually becoming available in coastal areas

Katrina's Wake

September 08, 2005|By P.J. Huffstutter | P.J. Huffstutter,LOS ANGELES TIMES

GULFPORT, Miss. - At the Sun Suites Hotel yesterday, manager Mike Williams was grateful for small favors.

None of the 128 rooms had electricity. A foul smell wafted from a mound of trash six feet tall in the parking lot. The roof was damaged and the elevator shaft had been ripped out in Hurricane Katrina.

But yesterday morning, the hotel got water. It wasn't fit to drink - authorities advised boiling it for an hour - but at least when Williams turned on the taps, water flowed. "The water pressure's real good - on the first floor," he said.

All across the devastated Mississippi coast, residents can see signs of recovery.

Power has been restored to much of the state, although about 150,000 homes and businesses remain dark. Phone service is starting to come back - the connections are patchy at best. And running water is returning; an open coin laundry in Gulfport was packed with people desperate to wash clothes caked with nine days' worth of grime and sweat.

After surviving on canned goods and handouts since the storm hit, residents can once again buy Domino's Pizza. At the Cowboy's Value Center convenience store, the gas pumps had been reduced to twisted lumps of metal - but the power was on, the soda was cold and shoppers who had cash were able to stock up on snacks.

National Guard troops have cleared out most of the rotting chickens and shrimp that had washed up from destroyed warehouses at the port of Gulfport, eliminating a major stench.

And a few streets have been cleared of rubble, so garbage trucks can get through.

The looting that broke out in the first few days after Katrina struck has largely subsided; authorities have arrested more than 100 suspects.

"The state is doing great. Every single day, progress is being made - progress in getting utilities on line, getting communication on line and delivering food and water to victims who have been displaced," said Pete Smith, a spokesman for Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

Amid all the optimism, officials caution that the full cost of Hurricane Katrina has not yet been tallied.

The official death toll in Mississippi stands at 196, but "as we get into the debris that's waist-high or even head-high, that number is likely to rise," Smith said. Authorities cannot estimate the number of bodies that might be trapped beneath the rubble.

None of the coastal counties has yet assessed property damage. Farther inland, Katrina destroyed 416 homes and businesses and severely damaged about 3,000 others, according to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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