Gulfport Streets Show Extent of Storm's Fury

First Baptist Church sits in ruins in Gulfport, Miss., in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

First Baptist Church sits in ruins in Gulfport, Miss., in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Reuters hide caption

itoggle caption Reuters

Hurricane Katrina has left thousands homeless in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Mississippi's governor and residents of Gulfport, Miss., describe scenes of "total devastation." The civil defense director says 100 are dead in Gulfport alone.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

The extent of the damage from Hurricane Katrina is just starting to become clear in the Gulf Coast region. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour took a helicopter tour of the area yesterday and was overwhelmed by the devastation he saw.

Governor HALEY BARBOUR (Mississippi): You simply cannot imagine the destruction. I would say 90 percent of the structures between the beach and the railroad in Biloxi, Gulfport, Long Beach and Pass Christian are totally destroyed. They're not severely damaged, they're simply not there.

MONTAGNE: Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. State officials got some of their first looks at the damage from the hurricane's 140-mile-per-hour winds and from the more than 20-foot storm surge that followed. From Gulfport, NPR's Kathy Lohr reports.

KATHY LOHR reporting:

and in every town. But the center of Katrina's wrath seems to have been through Gulfport. Huge oak trees are uprooted and split in two. Power lines are dangling like limp strands of hair. Billboards are folded in half. On top of that is the debris, piles of lumber, pieces of insulation, panes of glass are strewn everywhere. It looks like Katrina sucked up the entire town and spit it back out down by the water.

Mr. MATT LEE (Resident): There's total devastation. I mean, it's just crazy what Mother Nature can do.

LOHR: Matt Lee, a resident, says he's been walking around for 12 hours in the all but vacant streets. The hurricane picked up the pink Copa Casino, one of two that lined the city's waterfront, and slammed it down in the middle of a parking lot.

Mr. LEE: It's just amazing. I mean, these huge casinos uprooted, you know, straight out of the water and put in the middle of the highway, our busiest street, you know. It's really devastating. It's just--I'm speechless. There's nothing I can really even make of it.

LOHR: Down the coast, where quaint brick and wooden homes lined the streets just behind the beach, those who stayed and made it through the storm uninjured are still in disbelief. The Civil Defense director for Harrison County, where Gulfport is located, says the death toll here is at least 100. As Faith Felp(ph) holds her one-year-old baby boy, Brendon(ph), she recalls the seawater rising in the first floor of her home.

Ms. FAITH FELP (Gulfport Resident): It went up to about one, two, three, about four steps and it stopped. And I was terrified because I thought it was going to keep coming. And it got higher and higher and higher and finally stopped.

LOHR: The rising water was so strong that the family's refrigerator was floating, along with most of the other furniture. The tile floor is covered with mud and Felp says the pile of leaves and a few branches in the corner are nothing compared to what the storm brought in.

Ms. FELP: And you see all that debris right there? That's only a tiny portion of what was in the house. Those tree limbs, pieces of our back porch, pieces of people's houses that are behind us came through this little bitty hole.

(Soundbite of debris being moved)

LOHR: Outside Felp's house, a couple of neighbors who also stayed near 18th Avenue and Third Street tried to clear away the five-foot-high pile of debris blocking the road. A huge pine tree is down, but the tons of material that Katrina stripped away from the surrounding houses is just as much a problem. It has left many roads impassable.

(Soundbite of debris being moved, people groaning)

LOHR: Just up the block, cement foundations and concrete steps are the only evidence of the homes that once stood here. They were closer to the water and were leveled. Carl Felp(ph) says the high winds brought the beach and the gulf a whole lot closer.

Mr. CARL FELP (Gulfport Resident): And now you can see it clear as day. There was a Mexican restaurant right there. It's gone. All that's gone. It's gonna be awhile before any of this gets fixed.

LOHR: Most people who live in this area were not allowed back in to see the devastation. There is still no power, no phone service and no safe source of drinking water. Although people are anxious to return to their homes, officials say for many of them, there may not be much left. Kathy Lohr, NPR News.

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