At the Eye of the Storm: Gulfport, Miss.

Alex Chadwick talks with Associated Press reporter Holbrook Mohr about the hurricane-related damage recovery and rescue efforts in the coastal Mississippi city of Gulfport. The city was directly in the path of Hurricane Katrina's "wall eye" and some areas have been completely flattened by winds and a massive surge of water from the Gulf.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Now to Mississippi. Reuters news service reports it was a 30-foot storm surge caused by Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast there. The wire service says it wiped out 90 percent of the buildings along the coast at Biloxi and Gulfport. It left a scene of destruction Governor Haley Barbour compares to a nuclear detonation. Holbrook Mohr is a reporter with The Associated Press. He's in Gulfport. We spoke earlier.

Mr. HOLBROOK MOHR (The Associated Press): Today, most of the efforts here have been focused on trying to find survivors and get those people to the appropriate care, which is becoming a problem since most of the hospitals here are damaged; they are already overcrowded. They're also still recovering bodies. The civil defense director told me yesterday it seems like they're uncovering bodies minute to minute. He said there were a hundred confirmed fatalities yesterday, and that number could double or triple.

CHADWICK: Are you saying that's in Gulfport?

Mr. MOHR: In Harrison County.

CHADWICK: In Harrison County. Are you still finding survivors? Are the rescue people still finding survivors?

Mr. MOHR: Yes. Actually, the civil defense director, Joe Spraggins(ph), yesterday said two people were pulled from the Gulf who had been out there for 11 or 12 hours. There were 60 people found at an apartment complex that flooded. They apparently all went to one spot that was high enough where they could keep their heads out of the water. Those people were pulled out. Two people were found under debris yesterday still alive. There are search-and-rescue teams being brought in from around the country with dogs; they're joining the effort. So, yeah, they are still finding survivors.

CHADWICK: The pictures that I see from Gulfport look like complete devastation, in some areas at least. Where are people going for shelter?

Mr. MOHR: They have quite a few shelters open around town in high schools, churches. Those are getting pretty crowded at this point.

CHADWICK: They are?

Mr. MOHR: Yes.

CHADWICK: How do people seem to be coping? Are they in shock? Are they trying to organize themselves? What is happening?

Mr. MOHR: I met a man on the street. He came up to me and asked me if I could help him. He pointed to a Shell gas station along the beach that was totally demolished and he just broke into tears asking, `Where's Debbie? Where's Debbie? She's the love of my life.' So people are pretty distraught down here.

CHADWICK: Food and water, are they available for people?

Mr. MOHR: They are somewhat available. The National Guard is supposed to be bringing in more supplies along with the Red Cross, but as of yesterday, there were very few aid stations open. I don't know how that's going to change today.

CHADWICK: Let me ask about civil order there. There have been reports of looting, in New Orleans anyway.

Mr. MOHR: Yes.

CHADWICK: Is there civil order in Gulfport?

Mr. MOHR: There is a lot of looting going on. Yesterday, we saw a--Surf Style, was the name of it--just a little beachside souvenir shop--and there were people running out. They were all carrying the same flower-print blue bag when they came out stuffed with merchandise. An amusement park along the beach here was destroyed, and there were people riding the go-carts from their go-cart track up and down the beach road. So looting is a problem here. From what I understand, the jails are filling up pretty fast.

CHADWICK: The jails? So police are making arrests?

Mr. MOHR: Yes, they are.

CHADWICK: Holbrook, aside from the human devastation that's going on there, there must be some pretty dreadful economic consequences coming, as well.

Mr. MOHR: Absolutely. In Mississippi, casinos have to be anchored in the water, so they're all barges. And there are 12 of them along the coast, and they all sustained heavy damage. One of them actually, The President, was ripped from its mooring and tossed across US 90 into a Holiday Inn. I spoke to the CEO of Treasure Bay yesterday and he said that not only are these people going to have to rebuild their homes and their lives, a lot of them are going to have to do it without jobs because those casinos employ 15 to 16,000 people on the coast. That's direct jobs, and it's hard to estimate how many jobs are indirect from that.

CHADWICK: Holbrook Mohr in Gulfport, Mississippi. Holbrook, thank you.

Mr. MOHR: Thank you, Alex.

CHADWICK: So that is the situation as we know it now along the Gulf Coast. News will be more difficult to get in the coming hours, from New Orleans, anyway. As we reported earlier, news organizations are pulling reporters out of the city. The situation there is simply untenable.

You can get more data and updates on what is happening along the Gulf Coast at our Web site, npr.org. You'll also find links there of organizations where you can offer contributions to help.

I'm Alex Chadwick. There's more just ahead on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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