Famine, then Feast of Aid in Gulf Town Pearlington, Miss., had no help for days after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. Now, the town that had no relief is filled with workers from the federal government and charitable organizations.

Famine, then Feast of Aid in Gulf Town

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A report now on how the effects of the hurricane are being felt in neighboring Mississippi. Bordering southern Louisiana are the forests and bayous of Hancock County. NPR's Howard Berkes reports on those facing heart-wrenching loss and those trying to help.

HOWARD BERKES reporting:

Outside the Hancock County Emergency Operations Center, Betty Bruner(ph) stands near a generator and a small travel trailer. Bruner is a 36-year volunteer with the Red Cross who turned in her red vest last week, frustrated with the response to people needing help.

Ms. BETTY BRUNER (Former Red Cross Volunteer): They didn't get the food when they first needed it. There was some people told me they didn't eat for four days. Finally, people would come out of the bayous--come up out of the bayous walking and ask people to take them into a shelter. Those people needed food immediately.

BERKES: Bruner now works with the county, a beacon in her bright pink blouse, dispensing hugs one moment, guiding search teams with cadaver dogs the next. She's headed to a place called Pearlington, a remove corner of the county, where 1,700 people live among pines and oaks. She wants to see what it's like there now, two weeks after Katrina hit.

Ms. BRUNER: And this is the part that was just totally forgotten. The second day there was a gentleman came from the fire department one night and asked for help for down here. And I went to Hancock County and reported it, and then I thought, well, something was done, but then I found out later that it wasn't. So...

BERKES: The highway we drive is lined with hundreds of cars and trucks all askew, as if tossed like dice. And in Pearlington, trees are snapped and uprooted, houses are crushed.

Ms. BRUNER: Look at the debris. Look where they got--on top of those steps that go to nowhere. Over here--You see that?--oh, they're having church service right up there.

BERKES: We pass six people kneeling before folding chairs facing a statue of the Virgin Mary and a priest with arms raised. They pray where their church once stood.

(Soundbite of hammering)

BERKES: In the midst of the mess is an island of plenty, pallets loaded with cots, diapers, water and food. This is Pearlington's elementary school, a warehouse now where everything is free to the needy. Volunteers build more pallets and unload supplies...

Unidentified Man #1: Hi there.

BERKES: ...including three dozen plastic storage bins. Each holds a pair of three-room tents, collapsible water jugs and fun kits for the kids. John Green hauled them all the way from England.

Mr. JOHN GREEN: They provide shelter where there is no shelter. They provide shelter where people want to go back home and rebuild. We--this tent can go up in a very small space, provide accommodation for eight to 10 people, as people are rebuilding their homes because we found in the three days we've been here people are so desperate, so keen to rebuild their homes.

BERKES: Word spreads fast and people line up for the tent kits, including Jacqueline Vince(ph), who wants to move her family of five out of a friend's house, crammed now with seven surviving families. A tent pitched in Pearlington is the first step back.

Ms. JACQUELINE VINCE: It's home. Everybody know each other. I mean, it's a small community; everybody know each other, everybody stick together and help one another. So it's kind of hard to leave, you know. This is what you're used to, it's hard to leave.

BERKES: There's still some grousing about the pace of the response, but there's also relief that, on this day at least, help is here. Gail Griffin was seen by a doctor, picked up medicine and rummaged through the clothes bin, thankful for all she received.

Ms. GAIL GRIFFIN: They started just as quick as they could, you know. But, you know, they had to get in here--cut trees down and let the water subside, you know. Look, FEMA's here, the Red Cross is here and all the other people are here, the people that count now.

Unidentified Man #2: ...(Unintelligible) Dawson(ph)?

Unidentified Woman: Yes, please.

Unidentified Man #2: Tell him that--just hang a couple of...

Unidentified Woman: He's right here.

Unidentified Man #3: There you go, coming in right over your head.

BERKES: And the people and supplies keep coming now from Florida, Georgia and Minnesota. Betty Bruner is relieved, but one volunteer begs us to send this message: Send more help to little towns like Pearlington, Mississippi. Howard Berkes, NPR News.

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