Gulfport Residents Call for Increased Security

A towering red and purple guitar still stands in front of the remains of the Hard Rock Casino.

A towering red and purple guitar stands in front of the remains of the Hard Rock Casino, which was still under construction. Kathy Lohr, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Kathy Lohr, NPR

The beaches and the streets of Biloxi, Miss., are overflowing with piles of debris. There's barely any sign of an official presence, and residents are demanding more security and relief assistance.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And as the mayor of New Orleans is openly furious about the federal response and pleading for help, 30,000 National Guard troops and a US Navy warship are being sent to the Gulf Coast. We go now to Mississippi, where residents are also struggling. NPR's Kathy Lohr reports.

KATHY LOHR reporting:

The beaches and streets of Biloxi, Mississippi, are overflowing with piles of debris. A towering red and purple guitar stands in front of the remains of the Hard Rock Casino, which was still under construction. But there's barely any sign of an official presence here. People wander through the streets without any direction. Many end up at the jagged sections of the Highway 90 bridge that jut out over the water. The bridge used to connect Biloxi with Ocean Springs. Now people gaze at what they know was a massive force that caused the concrete road to cave in and crash down into the Gulf.

Mr. RANDALL SKUPIEN: No question about it. A lot of people thought that they were safe and they weren't.

LOHR: Randall Skupien and his wife, Leila, have lived in Biloxi all their lives. They say the wall of water that came up here had to be at least 23 feet high, based on the damage they had in their home nearby. They look dog tired. They're sweaty, but mostly they're disturbed that looting came to their neighborhood.

Mr. SKUPIEN: We had looters. We were not there, and the neighbors down the street saw some people walking down the street with my guitar and my amplifiers about 6:30 in the morning after the storm. And we still don't know anything else that we're missing.

Mrs. LEILA SKUPIEN: Well, we'll never know, because...

Mr. SKUPIEN: We don't know yet. Well, we don't know if somebody...

Mrs. SKUPIEN: ...everything went out the windows.

Mr. SKUPIEN: There's a lot of things missing, but we don't know if it was looted or if it was washed out into the bay.

LOHR: The Skupiens stayed here, not far from the beach, because they lived through Hurricane Camille in August of 1969. That was the big one, the monster, the one all storms were measured by, until now. They wouldn't risk it again.

Unidentified Woman: How many cereals you need? How many you feeding?

Unidentified Man: About six.

Unidentified Woman: So I'll make six bowls for you. Is that good?

LOHR: At the Salvation Army distribution site, people are straggling in on bikes and by foot. A volunteer serves cornflakes and juice. You can also get a bowl of chicken nuggets and gravy here, but residents have had little else. Among those in line is Johnny Forsheath(ph), who's 41 years old. As he sits on a curb with his bowl, he struggles to get out the words.

Mr. JOHNNY FORSHEATH: No, this is the first time we get something like this, 'cause everything's shut off. Well, they got gas lines everywhere spewing out and people walking around with cigarettes. I just hope they don't make it worse than what it already is. They start a fire and everything's going to burn.

LOHR: After surviving four hours on a rooftop during the storm, Forsheath didn't figure on what he'd have to face afterward, even though he's handed out meals in disaster relief efforts in other parts of the country. Forsheath says what most people think about now are the comforts of life.

Mr. FORSHEATH: A good bath, a warm meal, dry clothes to wear.

LOHR: That and electricity to reconnect the Gulf Coast to the rest of the world. Forsheath is also still trying to contact two of his brothers. He hasn't seen them since before Katrina hit. He knows that's a long time and he's worried.

Captain August Pillsbury set up the Salvation Army relief site last Monday.

Captain AUGUST PILLSBURY: They're trying to survive with every last thing they have. And, you know, survival isn't about nicety. Survival is not about being polite. Survival is about, you know, `This is what I need and this is what I'm going to get.'

LOHR: Pillsbury says people are just starting to talk about what they lost and to recognize how much destruction Katrina caused. But even he is surprised that so far his agency is still the only one delivering limited aid and hot food in this devastated city.

Capt. PILLSBURY: We are used to being first responders but we're also used to others following us in right away, and that has not happened. I don't know why. To be honest with you, it's probably so widespread that nobody really knows where to go. I don't think anybody realized what had happened here.

(Soundbite of rustling)

LOHR: Although people still need so many basic necessities, some search through the rubble to make a statement of hope. George Garbin hoists the Croatian flag at the Slavic Benevolent Association, even though there is not a wall standing.

Mr. GEORGE GARBIN: This is all we got left. It's our heritage.

LOHR: Garbin addresses the flag with tears in his eyes.

Mr. GARBIN: God bless you. Somebody better bless us.

LOHR: Garbin looks up as the banner catches the wind. It remains flying at Myrtle and First in Biloxi, just under the US flag.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News.

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