Mississippi Gulf Coast Reeling from Hurricane Katrina
From Ground Zero

By Keith Burton Ė Gulf Coast News Publisher    9/3/05

This is not going to be your regular news story. There are a lot of reasons for this. The first is that I am as much a part of the staggering story of Hurricane Katrina as the hundreds of thousands of people all along the northern Gulf Coast whose lives have been changed forever by this storm. After all, I live here too.

You cannot believe how difficult conditions are here and how frightening our immediate future is. This story will also be different because of how GCN is getting this to you. You have to know that communications, telephones, Internet and cells phones are not working, or working only marginally at the time of this report.

After great effort we have managed to get online, but we still need help and we are not sure even our current efforts will work long.

I have to thank GCN acting editor Perry Hicks, who is based in Virginia for relaying information from me to get some information out from Biloxi. And I want to thank my brother, Ken Burton, who is in Colorado Springs for engineering the GCN Survivor Connector Database to help people find loved ones.

Many of you have already seen the videos and news stories from the national media. I can tell you that aerial photography, as graphic as it is, in no way shows the true story from the ground. I struggle to find the words. The faces of friends, and family, the hollow fearful eyes as Coast residents, long experienced with hurricanes, know that this is a life changing event.

I have to thank God that my home and the homes of my brother and parents survived. But that doesnít mean in any way that we donít have major work ahead of us. Like thousands on the Coast, our days since the storm has been filled with trying to clear downed trees from our roofs and making makeshift repairs to protect our property. The amount of debris from trees is staggering.

Imagine every tree and bush from a lush semi-tropical environment stripped of the green of life and dumped limp and lifeless. It is as if winter in the coldest states suddenly came overnight, yet temperatures are still in the upper 90ís. It is the heat and humidity that is so debilitating, which brings up a major point of survival here - Water!

Wednesday, the first distribution of water began to be seen. With just three days since the storm, that sounds pretty quick, but keep in mind that the high temperatures mean you go through water fast.

The national news media has given you the big picture on how the Federal and State governments are responding and the news has been bad on that front with widespread criticism. But people just donít appreciate the scale of what has happened, and how hard it is just to begin to help.

First, just getting around is extremely difficult. Trees are down everywhere, especially in neighborhoods where people actually live. The news media generally talk about cities as if their downtowns was where everyone lived. But it is in the subdivisions and neighborhoods that Hurricane Katrina ruined lives and dreams.

Concerns over how badly Katrina tore into families and how shook people are is that officials have not released death figures. It will be shocking. One person who I know that is working on the recovery of bodies said that the teams are not being informed of the totals.

If the word chaos describes confusion, then Katrina is another word for the same. It is now four days since the storm and communications are still nearly impossible. This is for residents and officials alike.  It would be wrong at this point, however, to blame public officials for the problems that they are having with getting the help to the ground. The communication system on the Coast suffered tremendous damage and no effort of the scale that is needed can move quickly without communications. A lot of work on lines and telephone poles is underway, but we are talking miles and miles of line and thousands of repairs. Bell South and Mississippi Power are working as hard as possible.

There is some water flowing into homes and apartments at this time. The pressure is extremely low, and not enough to fight a fire, but it will fill up a toilet tank. It doesnít take long to realize that the simplest necessities of life make really big differences.

The lack of gasoline has largely stopped the sightseeing and frivolous driving that initially clogged the few streets that were opened shortly after Katrina. For the brave folks that have gone on gasoline runs, they report they have to go more than 150 miles just to find a few gallons as restrictions are in effect.

The result is people cannot risk driving. This is a major issue because even if food, water and medical distribution centers are set up, people canít get there.

Just last night, Long Beach police and city vehicles were out of fuel. Cityís employees were siphoning fuel from school buses and wherever they could find it. The hundreds of emergency service workers are finding that once they get here, there are only a few places they can get fuel and those places are quickly running out. If the fuel issue is not resolved within two or three days, the situation on the Mississippi Coast will become extremely dangerous.

I will update you more soon.

Note: I am posting stories and some content directly from Biloxi, but there are some delays. My Internet connection and power are issues that are really difficult to overcome. GCN will continue to run however, as our servers are located out of state. And I am getting help from others with updates, often relayed by telephone.

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