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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Waveland, Mississippi, was one of the towns most devastated by Hurricane Katrina; hundreds of houses there were destroyed. A few of the homeless have taken up residence in the parking lot of a discount store living in tents and trailers. NPR's Jim Zarroli visited the site.

JIM ZARROLI reporting:

These days, the parking lot of the Save-A-Lot store on Highway 90 in Waveland is littered with abandoned shopping carts, flooded-out SUVs and broken glass. It's also the home of Susan Saynamont and her extended family.

Ms. SUSAN SAYNAMONT: Financially right now I guess you could say we're OK; not the best considering the way we're living. We're camping out in a parking lot.

ZARROLI: Until two weeks ago, Saynamont lived in a rented house not far from here with her three kids and worked as a cook in a fast-food restaurant. Then Katrina struck.

Ms. SAYNAMONT: It flooded. I got 15-foot cathedral ceilings, and I had 10 foot of water in them in my house.

ZARROLI: So she came here with her children and her elderly parents. They're all living here together in a pair of tents. They've spread out a lot of their personal belongings on the ground, things they salvaged from the wreckage. The Kentucky Fried Chicken where she used to work is a few hundred feet away; it's been destroyed.

Unidentified Man: Go put it in the trash bag over there.

Unidentified Woman #1: Go put--there's a trash bag right--See it right over there? It's right over there.

ZARROLI: It's not exactly an easy life. There's a distribution site for emergency aid next door, and some porta-pottys have been set up nearby. But there's nowhere to take a shower, at night it's tough to sleep and during the day, the sun is blisteringly strong. After several days here, Saynamont has turned beet red.

Ms. SAYNAMONT: Considering the heat, having my mom and dad, the ages they are, not having my washer, dryer and stuff like that, it's pretty rough. I can imagine what the olden days were now.

ZARROLI: Saynamont and her family aren't alone here. Other families have also taken up residence across the trash-strewn parking lot. Like modern-day Okies, they've formed a kind of tent city. The police and the National Guard have more or less turned a blind eye to their presence. There's so much chaos in Waveland right now that no one can be bothered to make them move.

Unidentified Child: Mom, I want pie.

Unidentified Woman #2: No, you're not getting a pie. You're going to take a nap.

(Soundbite of child crying)

ZARROLI: The people here could live in temporary shelters the government has set up, but for one reason or another don't want to. Susan Peterson(ph) says there was too much drinking and vandalism taking place in the shelters, and she didn't want her kids exposed to it. Now she sits here in a small circle of tents holding on to her sun-burned son. She's living here with her husband, two children and mother, and it's clearly taking a toll on all of them.

Ms. SUSAN PETERSON: I wish I had my house. It's terrible. It's really bad.

ZARROLI: How's your family holding up?

Ms. PETERSON: Well, I'm broke down. Everybody's just, like, flipping out. They keep asking, `When are we going home? I don't want to camp out no more.' They just think it's a big camping trip. It's hot, miserable, the worst from the plague.

ZARROLI: And yet she says people have been kind, sometimes remarkably so. Cars come by regularly passing out food and water. Then a few days ago, a man from California showed up and gave the family a camper to live in with a generator. He turned out to be a contractor named Mark Davis(ph) who says he simply wanted to help hurricane victims.

Mr. MARK DAVIS (Contractor): I watched it on the news for a couple of days and I'd seen the response wasn't very adequate. I couldn't just sit home and watch it unfold.

ZARROLI: Since then, Davis has been living here in a tent trying to help people any way he can, though he says the need is so great, it's like pouring a teaspoon of water on a raging fire.

(Soundbite of dogs barking)

ZARROLI: Not far away, 60-year-old Renda Ellen Smith lives under a kind of pedestrian breezeway next to the Save-A-Lot with her two dogs and her husband. She says she went to a shelter, but they wouldn't let her in with her dogs and she refused to leave them behind. Smith says she has severe emphysema and needs oxygen every day. She says a relative is supposed to bring her a car so she can leave the area, and that won't happen a minute too soon.

Ms. RENDA ELLEN SMITH: This was home, but it don't even look like home no more. It's like we're in a real bad dream and like we're not even in America no more and you just can't wake up.

ZARROLI: Like a lot of people here, Smith isn't sure where she'll go when she does leave. The hurricane destroyed so many homes in Waveland, things aren't much better in surrounding towns. And with all that's happened, no one expects that to change anytime soon. Jim Zarroli, NPR News.

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