Overlooked Small Town Awaits Katrina Aid

Many of the homes in Little Creek, Miss., were badly damaged in Hurricane Katrina, but residents say they've been largely overlooked by the big relief groups and government agencies that are helping other parts of the states.

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Hurricane Katrina ravaged cities like New Orleans and Biloxi, Mississippi. It also rolled through a lot of very small towns, places like Little Creek, Mississippi, a tiny, unincorporated hamlet tucked into the foothills in the southern part of the state. Many of Little Creek's homes were badly damaged in the storm, but residents say they've been largely overlooked by the big relief groups and government agencies that are helping other parts of the state. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

(Soundbite of footsteps; dog barking)

JIM ZARROLI reporting:

When Naomi Bolton comes outside to greet visitors these days, she has to step over a power line that's strung across her front walkway. When Katrina struck, a giant pine tree fell onto the roof of her mobile home and it dragged an electrical line down with it. As a result, Bolton has no power. She also can't get gasoline because the only service station in town is closed, so she can't get to town to buy food or get the prescription for her heart condition filled.

Ms. NAOMI BOLTON (Little Creek Resident): It's bad. There's no one to come around to even get a tree off of your house, to offer to help you to get a tree off of the house. And it's bad. It's just like nobody don't care, you know. They don't really care.

ZARROLI: It's a refrain you hear a lot of these days here. Little Creek is a poor community lodged along a highway in the Piney Woods of southeast Mississippi. It's easy to overlook, and a lot of people say that's what's happened since Katrina struck here last week. Reverend Mashorn Hartfield(ph) says right now a lot of people in Little Creek are having trouble finding food.

Reverend MASHORN HARTFIELD: We got a lot of low-income people that stay out that way who don't get any kind of assistance. And so they are really kind of hurting, some of them. You know, how high gas is and some of them really don't have the means to go to Hattiesburg, to go to Lucedale.

ZARROLI: Hartfield's church gave away some donated food this week; it was gone almost immediately. But there has been no sign of FEMA or the Red Cross or any of the other big relief groups flooding into bigger towns.

Meanwhile, the water came back on yesterday, but it has to be boiled before being used. And like much of Mississippi, Little Creek remains without electricity. Cynthia Woods says it's enough to drive people crazy.

Ms. CYNTHIA WOODS (Little Creek Resident): I been just doing a lot of waiting, just sitting at home trying to think what to do. And so I just be outside just moving trees and limb out of the yard, sure is, and just watching the power people just pass by us, the power trucks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ZARROLI: Going by and not stopping.

Ms. WOODS: Not stopping. We be out there, `Hey! Hey!' They blow away. We'd be, `Hey! Hey!' Yes.

ZARROLI: With no power, the air conditioners don't work and the afternoons are steamy and long. One elderly woman collapsed in the heat and had to be hospitalized. As it happened, engineer Mike Van Winkle from the power company came by this morning to inspect the downed lines.

Mr. MIKE VAN WINKLE (Engineer): But I think they've been out for nine days. In this area, we're going to try to get the main line back in today. And hopefully, the outlying areas, the folks off the main line--we're going to be working on them the rest of the week. But some of the folks that are back in the woods, it does take a while.

ZARROLI: Van Winkle said the power company would repair any outside lines damaged by the storm, but Katrina has damaged a lot of inside lines, too, and few people here can afford to hire an electrician to fix them. Most people have no insurance. Nita Holmes says a few days ago, some neighbors pooled their gasoline money and drove to a nearby town where ice and water was being distributed, but the effort backfired.

Ms. NITA HOLMES (Little Creek Resident): By the time we do car pool, then we get there, they say, `Well, we can only give you this much per car,' but it's two or three families in the car. So we get back home, we gotta share a couple of box of water or a bag of ice apiece 'cause we only get a couple of bags of something like that, you know. So it's been bad for us.

ZARROLI: Little Creek is located some 50 miles from the Gulf, and so it was spared the kind of horrific damage that other towns faced. Many people here seemed to understand that things could have been worse. Still, as the difficult days drag on, it gets tougher and tougher to feel very fortunate. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, Little Creek, Mississippi.

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