ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
`The cavalry is and will continue to arrive.' Those were the words today of a National Guardsman arriving in New Orleans. Five days after Hurricane Katrina, a convoy of military trucks bringing food and water finally reached the city. The arrival of help at the convention center was greeted with applause but also with anger and catcalls. Thousands of people had been waiting there for days.
President Bush admitted today that the federal response had been unacceptable. Mr. Bush toured Biloxi and New Orleans, getting a look at the devastation. While much of the focus has been on New Orleans, dozens of small communities along Gulf were flattened by the hurricane and have gotten less attention. My colleague Melissa Block visited two such places today: Bay St. Louis and Waveland, Mississippi.
(Soundbite of water)
MELISSA BLOCK reporting:
I'm standing on the beach in Waveland, looking at what used to be houses stretching in either direction as far as the eye can see. There is absolutely nothing left. These have been ripped down to their foundations. No one in this community who lived along the water here, and even some distance inland, has anything left to come back to.
(Soundbite of water)
BLOCK: Amid the rubble of the homes here, you can find a red corvette flipped on its belly, a silver butter knife engraved `Ernie,' thousands of seashells that washed up in the storm surge onto what used to be lawns. A bright yellow butterfly flits past an American flag that someone has salvaged and lashed onto a drooping cable line. The flag is muddied and torn and flutters softly in the breeze.
Mr. DAVID FRANC(ph) (Local Resident): I always called this place America's best kept secret: a beautiful, quiet little beachside community.
BLOCK: David Franc has come to the beach with a camera to take a few pictures. He lives a few blocks away--or used to. Franc hasn't been able to get to his house. There's too much debris in the way, but he knows it's gone, and somehow, he manages a bit of a smile.
Mr. FRANC: I look at it as an opportunity. It's, like, you know, it's tragic that so much was lost, so many people died, but it's an opportunity for to start over. A lot of people that maybe haven't had it so good in their life or have had it too good in their life or whatever, it's, like, everybody starts at square one now. Everybody starts even. You can make of it what you want to now. You can either screw around and fritter it away, or you can make something out of it.
(Soundbite of helicopter)
Mr. FRANC: That's one thing like Hank Williams says: Country boy can survive. And a lot of these people around here are, you know, pretty much good old country boys, and they can survive. They'll find a way.
BLOCK: A young woman pulls up in a muddy car. She's puffing on a Marlboro and clutching photographs of smiling children. Keirsten Beausarje(ph) is frantic, trying to find friends and family, including two stepdaughters and their father.
Ms. KEIRSTEN BEAUSARJE (Local Resident): Troy Hernandez(ph), Crystal(ph), Hope, Bonnie Saucier(ph), Marilyn Hernandez(ph), Chris Hernandez, Leslie Hernandez. She was a nurse at Hancock County.
BLOCK: She's been going from shelter to shelter, trying to find them.
Ms. BEAUSARJE: Last night, I was at Bay Wesgong High School(ph). I stopped there. And here I am with a first-aid kit my dad sent to me. He said, `Be careful. Carry a knife with you. There's looters.' And these people just want medical attention. I have never seen anything like this in my life. There's a man there that had a nail through his foot, and he's got--my mom's a nurse, so I know a little bit. He's got--it looks like gangrene starting to set into his foot. There's a man there that his toe is just about chopped off. I bandaged a man's arm that he did get some initial medical treatment, but it was starting to get infection. And these people were, like, `Can we pay you?' And I was, like, `You don't owe me anything.'
These people have lost everything. There are people pushing buggies down the street. But the one thing I can say about here is that you don't see anybody shooting helicopters or anything. They want the help, so people in New Orleans really need to think about what they're doing, 'cause these people, they're making other people suffer.
BLOCK: I asked Keirsten Beausarje what President Bush should know about what this community is going through.
Ms. BEAUSARJE: I know I heard on the radio--and I know this sounds ugly--that people might feel better with a hug from the president. We need a lot more than a hug from the president from this, and that's not being ugly, but this is gone. The whole--everything's gone.
(Soundbite of emergency operations center activity)
BLOCK: At an emergency operations center in Bay St. Louis, we find the deputy coroner of Hancock County, Greg Griffin, briefing a team from the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. They'll be heading out to help bring back bodies of hurricane victims. One woman on the team holds a stack of face masks. Griffin tells them softly, `There's nothing I can say to prepare you for what you're going to see or going to smell.' I ask him about the complications of time and heat.
Mr. GREG GRIFFIN (Deputy Coroner, Hancock County): Well, that's what you got to expect in a mass casualty like this. We've thrown rescue teams and recovery teams--this is the first time that some of them have had to deal with this situation, and some of them are having problems with it, but most are digging down deep and getting the job done.
BLOCK: What kinds of problems, and what do you tell them?
Mr. GRIFFIN: We brief them on what to expect. And after our task, our mission is performed, we do a debriefing.
BLOCK: When you say you tell them what to expect, what should they expect out there?
Mr. GRIFFIN: The absolute worst. There's no way that we can explain it in detail, but--there's just no way to explain it.
(Soundbite of front-end loader)
BLOCK: Just down the road is a shelter set up at Bay High School, and there are signs of progress. A front-end loader is scooping up huge piles of garbage bags to cart away. As of this morning, they finally have a few blue Port-A-Potties, a minor miracle. And an ambulance arrives. People line up to ask for prescriptions.
Unidentified Woman #1: What are you on?
Unidentified Woman #2: I'm on Dilantin, 400 milligrams a day.
BLOCK: Still, it looks like a squatter camp, people in tents under umbrellas, napping in the shade under the school awning. Patrick Greene approaches us with this judgment.
Mr. PATRICK GREENE (Local Resident): The good Lord done put a whooping on us.
BLOCK: Greene has come by this shelter to see a friend. He was 13 years old when Hurricane Camille swept through here, killed at least 130 people in Mississippi. He says Katrina makes Camille look like a newborn baby.
Mr. GREENE: The whole area where I live, right by the beach, is nothing but a pile of lumber. People's houses, the pieces you could recognize, come from three or four streets over. Bodies coming out of the cemeteries, I hate to say.
BLOCK: Is that right?
Mr. GREENE: Yes, ma'am. I went to visit my son's grave and noticed people's caskets come out of the tombs, and it's terrible, awful. I don't know what other way to put it. I mean, people sleeping in the woods, sidewalk. I've been staying and sleeping in the grave yard. I mean, to tell you the truth, I mean, it's more sanitary. The sanitation done got so terrible even.
BLOCK: Did you just say you've been sleeping in the grave yard?
Mr. GREENE: On top of my grandparents' tomb. I'll tell you what's bad is I done run across some cottonmouth moccasins, and they're very poisonous. That's why I don't want to sleep on the ground, and that's what's really going to start to get bad, too, the snakes, 'cause at the last storm, the snakes always start coming out.
BLOCK: You know, President Bush is coming down to the coast today, and I wonder, if you could talk to him, try to explain what you're going through, what you would tell him.
Mr. GREENE: Tell him to bring our men from Iraq. They'd have more help here.
BLOCK: Melissa Block, NPR News, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.