Weathering the Storm in Hattiesburg, Miss.

House covered with fallen trees. i i

"Every other house on your street either has a tree down blocking the road or if it's not blocking the road, it's across someone's house resting comfortably in their living room or bedroom." Mary Beth Applin hide caption

itoggle caption Mary Beth Applin
House covered with fallen trees.

"Every other house on your street either has a tree down blocking the road or if it's not blocking the road, it's across someone's house resting comfortably in their living room or bedroom."

Mary Beth Applin
Bricks torn from the side of an apartment building litter the ground. i i

"Every house with at least shingle damage or broken windows... others with trees through their roof, homes and businesses with roofs torn off, brick walls blown away, walls missing exposing the homes' or businesses' contents." Mary Beth Applin hide caption

itoggle caption Mary Beth Applin
Bricks torn from the side of an apartment building litter the ground.

"Every house with at least shingle damage or broken windows... others with trees through their roof, homes and businesses with roofs torn off, brick walls blown away, walls missing exposing the homes' or businesses' contents."

Mary Beth Applin
People line up for gasoline in Hattiesburg, Miss. i i

"You may ask yourself, 'Why don't you pack up and go some place?" Where? Everyone I know that I could drive to is in the same predicament as me. I have limited gas and I am not sure that wherever I drive to will have gas and/or power." Mary Beth Applin hide caption

itoggle caption Mary Beth Applin
People line up for gasoline in Hattiesburg, Miss.

"You may ask yourself, 'Why don't you pack up and go some place?" Where? Everyone I know that I could drive to is in the same predicament as me. I have limited gas and I am not sure that wherever I drive to will have gas and/or power."

Mary Beth Applin

Katrina's devastation extended far beyond the Gulf Coast and the storm surge that wreaked havoc there. It also uprooted trees — and upended lives — in Hattiesburg, Miss., nearly 70 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Mary Beth Applin, 43, teaches at the University of Southern Mississippi there. Lately, she's been volunteering with the American Red Cross and keeping notes on events in town. Here are some excerpts:

Sept. 1

This was written down by hand, by candelight, and later transcribed into an e-mail by Mary Beth Applin's mother.

I was lying in bed trying in my head to describe what our situation was like here in Mississippi the second day after the hurricane. Words and pictures can't adequately describe the horrific devastation we are experiencing, but I will try:

Imagine sitting in your home and imagine everything 3 hours east, west, north or south of you is damaged or destroyed. Every other house on your street either has a tree down blocking the road or if it's not blocking the road, it's across someone's house resting comfortably in their living room or bedroom. Some streets you can't even see for all the trees, branches and debris in them and through all that tangled mess are telephone and electric poles broken in half and wires lying everywhere.

Think of every single person within a 3 hour radius is in the same boat. No one's home escaped damage. Every house with at least shingle damage or broken windows others with trees through their roof, homes and businesses with roofs torn off, brick walls blown away, walls missing exposing the homes or businesses contents. Needless to say all the roads are impassable. Folks wait patiently for crews to come and clear their streets or at least clear a path so they can find ice or water. We pray it doesn't rain so leaking water doesn't leak back into our homes... though a rain sure would cool the 95-plus temperatures.

Water and ice are gold right now. Offer someone $100 or three bags of ice and I guarantee they will take the ice right now. I kept my freezer full of ice and managed to save my freezer full of meat. My eggs, milk and orange juice were in my ice chest but after 3 days most of the ice has melted.

No word yet when there will be any ice. The National Guard was supposed to bring some but not even Law Enforcement knows where or when since all communications lines are down even at Emergency Management Office. I also managed to fill a tub full of water and aside 6 gallons of drinking water but the tub kept only half of the water, which I managed to transfer to pots and pans for the toilet, the animals and for sponge baths.

It's terribly hot -— middle 90s during the day to 80s at night. People are out working clearing up during the day in this heat only to come home to a house that's at least as warm, if not warmer as the temperature outside. A cool shower is out of the question since we have no running water. Even a sponge bath must be done sparingly as the water supply is scarce. A sponge bath isn’t very refreshing as the sweat pours off as fast as you can wipe it off. The house cools to 82 at night making it impossible to sleep. After that terrible wind storm, there is not a breeze to be found now.

You may ask yourself, "Why don't you pack up and go some place?" Where? Everyone I know that I could drive to is in the same predicament as me. In addition, I can't call anyone to see how conditions are there. And I dare not drive. I have limited gas and I am not sure that wherever I drive to will have gas and/or power.

Communications were completely down until yesterday afternoon. No one could call in or out. Radios were out until yesterday afternoon. So we couldn't even get any news about how the rest of the world weathered the storm. Many, many people have relatives on the coast and cannot ascertain if they are alive. News we have heard is that the coastal cities have been wiped out.

What can people do to help? Our greatest need is for ice and water. Food will soon be needed. Please donate to your American Red Cross. In the long term your time and manpower will be needed, not money. Millions of homes have been damaged or destroyed. Money for repairs are not necessarily as much of a problem as hands to do the work.

Sept. 3, 2005

Two days later, Mary Beth Applin was able to send an e-mail to family and friends. Here are some excerpts...

...I've been volunteering with the Red Cross since Wednesday working at the area shelter to give the original volunteers some relief. Shelter work has been both heart-wrenching and uplifting. The shelter has housed approximately 1,100 people since Sunday — a good portion of them from New Orleans. On Thursday night, many of the refugees asked me when they thought they might be able to go home. I couldn't bring myself to tell them that it would probably be weeks if not months before they could return. There were lots of mothers there with young children whose father, husband or brother had stayed in New Orleans to take care of the house. They were frantic trying to find word of them. The shelter has generators to provide lights and a lone TV that people sit glued to. We didn't have any TV or radio stations running in this area until Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon so we didn't know what was going on until then except for reports brought up by people passing through from the coast. The news reports indicated that it would be 2-3 months before people could return to New Orleans but I don't think it has sunk in to most people staying at the shelter. Thursday, after the 10 o'clock evening news, a young boy came running to the Red Cross counter to tell us his mother was having chest pains and couldn't breathe. We all thought the woman was having a heart attack. The nurse ran over and came back about 30 minutes later to tell us that the woman was having an anxiety attack. I think the news finally had sunk in to her.

The shelter is running with very little national or state support at this point. The local Red Cross had previously been able to use Camp Shelby, which could easily house and feed 10,000 for such emergencies. Since the Iraq War, they have not been able to use the camp and had not really prepared for a disaster of this magnitude. They only had 300 cots and few other amenities and though they had requested stuff from the National office more than a year ago, I think other disasters such as the Tsunami had delayed delivery. When I left this morning (Saturday), cots still had not been delivered. Most of the refugees have been sleeping on the bare concrete floor (since Sunday) without even a pillow or blanket to lie on. I made a trip around my neighborhood and collected a car full of sheets, blankets, pillows and sleeping bags and brought it with me Friday night. By then, word had spread through the city and many Hattiesburgians had made trips to the shelter bringing water, food, baby goods, clothes, sheets, pillows and toiletries. The community response was tremendous considering what Hattiesburgians themselves were going through. That was the uplifting part.

I think I've been most amazed at the lack of leadership, organization, communication, and preparation at all levels here (city, state and federal). I know that no one really could prepare for a disaster of this magnitude but I keep waiting for someone to take charge and say "Okay, this is what we're going to do." But, six days later and that still hasn't happened. Everyone keeps telling people to be patient, but no one is willing to step up to the plate and make the big decisions so that people know what they are being patient about. The politicians at all levels tell people that help is on the way and that everything possible is being done but no plan of action is being communicated. People are panicking because they don't know what's going on and they don’t think that anyone is taking care of them. Without "big picture" decisions and a concentrated effort to communicate vital information, I think people naturally respond with the "I better take care of number one" mentality...

The gas situation is critical. There are still only a few stations that have opened and they have very quickly run out of gas. People camp at gas pumps overnight hoping that a particular station might have electricity the next day. Cars line up for miles as soon as it's announced that a station is open. I can't tell you the number of radio callers who phone in to bemoan the fact that they sat for 3-4 hours in a gas line only to get to the pump and find that it was empty.

As soon as I had electricity I ran to the TV to watch the news. Unfortunately, my satellite dish was not receiving. I managed to hook myself up to the Internet today now that phone service is a little more reliable. I spent the first 3 hours looking at the news reports and had myself a good cry. I called Michael and Melissa the other night and told them "Tape the news for me!" I'm afraid by the time we all get connected here to television again Katrina will be old news and I'll have missed coverage of one of the most catastrophic events of this lifetime.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.