Katrina Proves Deadly for Coastal Mississippi

Alex Chadwick speaks with Associated Press reporter Holbrook Mohr for an update on how coastal communities in Mississippi are coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Mississippi Gov. Hailey Barbour says 80 people may have died in one county alone as a result of the storm, and the death toll is expected to rise.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, an interview with the anti-war leader Cindy Sheehan.

First, the lead: the hurricane and what is happening today. In a moment, we'll hear the latest about New Orleans. First, to Mississippi, where Governor Haley Barbour describes the devastation along the Gulf Coast as enormous. Eighty people may have died in just one county there. Roads are flooded; coastal communities cut off. Power may be out for weeks. Many homes and livelihoods have been lost. And the shock still remains for residents like these two women, one from Gulfport, one from New Orleans.

Unidentified Woman #1: We was in the house. All of a sudden we heard something sounded like a bomb dropped on us. The roof--we went there; the roof was gone. It was gone.

Unidentified Woman #2: It was a nightmare. It was just--I just prayed the whole while. The water was rising; hoping that everybody would be all right and just fear. Just fear. And I don't ever want to go through this again.

CHADWICK: Holbrook Mohr is a reporter with the Associated Press. We reached him a little while ago in Biloxi, Mississippi.

What do you see? What does it look like?

Mr. HOLBROOK MOHR (Associated Press): It looks like total destruction. The noise you hear in the background is a piece of large equipment removing debris from US 90, which is the main beach road through Gulfport and Biloxi. We actually came over to Biloxi from Gulfport this morning to look at an apartment complex where there were quite a few fatalities, and it appears that all that's left of that particular apartment is the slab.

CHADWICK: You mean the foundation slab?

Mr. MOHR: Right. Right.

CHADWICK: Everything else is blown away?

Mr. MOHR: Yes, sir.

CHADWICK: And how many people were in the building?

Mr. MOHR: I'm not sure. It's difficult to get a count right now. The communications are really poor. I heard there could have been more than a dozen.

CHADWICK: More than a dozen.

Mr. MOHR: Yes.

CHADWICK: Well, the governor says there could be 80 fatalities in that county there.

Mr. MOHR: I believe it. Looking around, the streets are covered with debris, the roads are buckled. Apartment complexes and homes were ripped from their foundations. It's--I've never seen anything like this.

CHADWICK: You were in Gulfport when the hurricane went through there yesterday. I've read reports of this just enormous surge that came through, storm surge, as high as 25 feet. What was it like in Gulfport?

Mr. MOHR: Well, I went riding with the fire chief--his name is Pat Sullivan--during the storm. Then we went down to US 90, which like I said, is the main road; it runs along the beach. And there were boats that were tossed from harbors across the street onto the road and even into buildings. There are cars in swimming pools here. I heard stories of people crawling in their attic to escape the water. It was pretty extreme.

CHADWICK: From the condition of the roads that you describe and the debris everywhere, it sounds as though you'd still have trouble just getting to people to rescue them. What are officials doing?

Mr. MOHR: The officials brought in National Guard. There is also a Navy Construction Battalion here called the Seabees. I believe they were trying to get some equipment from them. I even saw yesterday one neighborhood where there was four to six feet of water in places. People were bringing out the elderly and young children on small jon boats.

CHADWICK: Holbrook, did people in that area understand that the storm might be coming toward them?

Mr. MOHR: I think the feeling that a lot of people had was that the storm was going to go toward New Orleans, and if you remember, Mississippi dodged a bullet a couple of times in the past year with Hurricane Ivan and Dennis, which was projected to hit this area, but then turned and hit more towards Mobile and the Florida Panhandle. So I'm afraid some people may have become complacent and didn't heed evacuation warnings.

CHADWICK: Do you know how many people did evacuate and how many stayed?

Mr. MOHR: I do not know that. Officials have not given me an estimate on that.

CHADWICK: Well, what are the plans for the area now? What are people going to try to do over the next day?

Mr. MOHR: There's going to be a long road ahead cleaning up this place and rebuilding, but I think mainly people are just trying to account for others they know.

CHADWICK: How about food and water and power?

Mr. MOHR: There is no power or water, and I believe it's that way in most of the area. Most of the traffic signals are down. Power lines look like spider webs, and I believe people are going to depend on the Red Cross and the National Guard for supplies.

CHADWICK: What about the people who live there, the survivors who've come through this storm? I mean, just what are people like walking around?

Mr. MOHR: I talked to one fellow just a few minutes ago. He was sitting on a cinder block in the rubble of a hotel, and he just put his hands on his head and shook his head. I think people are in a state of awe right now. Some of the older people say they can remember devastation close to this from Hurricane Camille, but surely nobody younger--too young to remember that has ever seen anything like this.

CHADWICK: Holbrook Mohr, a reporter with the Associated Press, speaking with us from Biloxi, Mississippi. Holbrook, thank you.

Mr. MOHR: Thank you, Alex.

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