Picking Up the Pieces in Mississippi

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While much of the nation's attention continues to focus on Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts in Louisiana, Mississippi residents are considering their own prospects for recovery. Madeleine Brand speaks with David Schaper, reporting from the coastal town of Pascagoula, on picking up the pieces outside the New Orleans spotlight.


Vice President Dick Cheney is touring areas hit by Hurricane Katrina today. He was in Gulfport, Mississippi, this morning and had this to say.

Vice President DICK CHENEY: I think the progress we're making is significant. I think the performance in general at least in terms of the information I've received from locals is definitely very impressive.

BRAND: Vice President Dick Cheney speaking in Mississippi, where more than 200 people are confirmed dead; most recently, three people who died from exposure to bacteria in floodwaters. Meanwhile, residents are making their way through long lines to get help with housing, unemployment and other long-term needs. NPR's David Schaper is near Pascagoula.

DAVID SCHAPER reporting:

Well, the recovery and relief effort's still on. And you mentioned the deaths from cholera. This is a big concern to health officials now, that they have actually now four confirmed fatalities--people from cholera-related bacteria that they found in contaminated water. Each of these people had open wounds and had been wading through the waters. You know, the floodwaters here were very high and they came in fast and they receded fast, but they've left a lot of low-lying areas. Sewers backed up into the streets of the many towns and cities along the Gulf Coast, and that's left this kind of dangerous situation that could cause significant and serious illnesses, and the health department is very, very concerned about that.

BRAND: And you know, we mentioned that a lot of attention has been focused on Louisiana and New Orleans. Do Mississippi residents feel that they're being ignored?

SCHAPER: You know, they do to a certain extent, and they feel like not only that much of the media attention has gone to New Orleans and Louisiana, but also with it a lot of the relief supplies and a lot of the aid. I shouldn't say that that's entirely true because there is a significant aid presence along the Gulf Coast. The problem, and I talked to somebody with the Red Cross earlier this morning--the problem that they're really having is they're now getting a lot of the supplies--the critical food and water and other immediate needs here. They're having trouble dispersing it, particularly north of the Gulf Coast and into the bayou and into these more remote areas where people live and have ridden out the storm, but now are too far away--their cars have been flooded out; it's a long, long walk to town to be able to get some of the relief that has come in.

BRAND: And what are you hearing from the residents there in terms of where they're placing their disappointment and even their anger?

SCHAPER: It varies. There's a lot of frustration with FEMA here, and I don't know if it's because they've seen FEMA become kind of the punching bag for the entire relief effort. But FEMA did open a disaster recovery center in Ocean Springs yesterday, one of the smaller communities, which people were relieved to see because even within the Gulf Coast they feel like Biloxi and Gulfport--the two bigger cities--have been getting more attention than these smaller towns. However, the--some people did come in very angry, that they've been trying to get some answers or some--even somebody to pick up the phone at FEMA for days and days and days. I mean, even mayors of towns have been trying to get ahold of FEMA officials and get some answers.

On the other side of it, a lot of people were patient and waiting patiently, and resigned to wait in line a couple of hours to at least start the ball rolling and start getting some of their questions answered in terms of who could maybe help replace some of their damaged goods, who can help them find replacement housing, who can answer a lot of the questions that they also have for their long-term needs.

BRAND: And how do they feel about the president?

SCHAPER: It's unclear. You know, there was one guy who was very angry and said, `This is Bush's fault and Bush needs to start firing some people.' Others in this very red state I think are willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt. There's a lot of people just willing to say that this is an act of nature that they could not fully prepare for.

BRAND: NPR's David Schaper near Pascagoula, Mississippi. Thanks, David.

SCHAPER: Thank you.

BRAND: Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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