As Al Maruri settled into his living room before Katrina raged at Mississippi's Gulf Coast, seven houses on Holley Street separated his place from the beach. When storm waters slipped away hours later, his was closest. The other seven simply vanished.
Front walks led to front steps -- which led to nothing. Climbing over piles of debris the morning after, he could not fathom the waters' power.
"I was in a bad dream just waiting to wake up," Maruri said. "But I didn't wake up."
Katrina's winds fled and the water receded, but Biloxi awakened to a hot, sunny day that brought no peace. Along miles of coastline, surging water has splintered restaurants, hollowed out hotels and pushed homes off their pilings. Furious winds knocked out power, telephones and the water supply.
City authorities estimated Tuesday that at least 40 people died, many trapped without an exit as the water rose.
Residents saw proof of a calamity far greater than the town's overmatched workforce can handle. "This is our tsunami," said Mayor A.J. Holloway. He cautioned residents that "help's coming, but it's going to take a little while to get here."
On Lameuse Street, hundreds of yards from the beach, storm waters climbed near the ceilings of one-story wooden homes, forcing occupants to climb atop furniture and attic ladders. When the tide went away almost as quickly as it came, it left sadness and frustration that residents and leaders alike expect will only grow.
"We need ice. We need water. We need food," said Martha Owens, 49. "They need to start sending somebody through here."
Dawn etched the silhouettes of small bands of people trudging away from waterlogged homes, carrying sleeping toddlers and little else. For those who lived within several blocks of the coast, driving was rarely an option because cars were flooded or penned in by fallen trees.
They had not left before the storm, many said, because they could not imagine the damage it could do.
For people who quit their houses before the wind and water came, Tuesday brought them back to see what Katrina had wrought. They zigzagged among the downed trees and electrical wires, past the hissing natural gas lines and broken water mains. Gisela Pagan started weeping as she stood on the top step of her front stoop and saw her home was nothing but rubble.
"Everything is gone. I can't believe this," said Pagan, who worked at one of Biloxi's storm-bashed casinos, now idled indefinitely. "I didn't think this was going to happen, ever. I loved this house. I just had the house refinanced, too. I did so good."
Down the street, a man asked if anyone knew about the woman who had lived at the big new house on the corner. The storm has scoured the place clean, leaving nothing but the concrete foundation. It might as well have been an outdoor basketball court.
At the Quiet Water Beach apartments, a concrete-block complex torn apart as if it had been a trailer park, Barbara Zollicoffer shook her head and said, "This was my apartment right here. I knew it was going to be bad. I wasn't expecting this."
Neither was Landon Williams, 19, who had moved into the building six weeks ago. As the storm powered ashore, he and eight others realized they had badly miscalculated when they decided not to evacuate. Where once they could have walked, there was nothing to do but swim in churning 10-foot waters when the walls began to shake apart.
"I thought it was stable," Williams said. "It wasn't."
With his grandmother, 55, and his boss, he managed to make it through the surging water into the second-floor window of a nearby house.
"You couldn't see because of the debris and the rain. The wind was going 120 miles per hour. It felt like little BBs popping me in the face," Williams said. "You just have time to do one thing, and that thing is to go to higher ground. I'm not saying that it wasn't shocking or terrifying, because it was."
Nearby, his grandmother, Joy Schouest, was looking dazed.
"I lost everything. I lost my teeth," Schouest said. "It's strange to be 55 and have no shoes."
In a pricier stretch of real estate, Margaret Booth had tried to ride out the storm, but first the glassed-in front porch went, then the casement windows -- and then water came in a strong surge. The floors began to tremble and the walls swayed.
Booth fled next door. Her furniture went one way, her four sets of bone china went another. Tuesday, a granddaughter fished a can of Slim-Fast, still cold, from a refrigerator that wallowed on its back in the yard next door. Booth pointed to a tree where Confederate President Jefferson Davis is said to have tethered his horse. "Jefferson Davis came to call here. I have the records in the attic," Booth said, then caught herself. "Well, I don't have an attic."
A few blocks west, scavengers sifted through the remains of a pawnshop. In Biloxi's seafront business district, debris covered the four-lane road known as Beach Boulevard. One chain hotel after another stood empty, with beds, tables, toilets and televisions pushed inland, where they all beached in heaps at the storm surge's high-water mark.
"Our hotel is destroyed. The structure is there, but it is hollow. We don't even know where the lobby is," said Marty Desai, touring the ruins with his wife. He owns four hotels in Biloxi, only one of them habitable -- and that one, like everything else in town, has no electricity or running water. He said a recovery would take "not days or weeks, but months."
Desai wonders if insurance companies have enough cash to make good on their policies.
"If the federal government helps them and they help us," Desai said, "we will be able to rebuild."
Even the Biloxi Fire Department was low on fuel and water. The police, hurrying to stock shelters for people who cannot return home, commandeered a supermarket across from headquarters. As a firefighter hauled crates of food and soft drinks from the store, it was clear that the relief operation would satisfy little hunger or thirst.
"We need a ton of help. We could use National Guard units," said one Biloxi officer who said he was not authorized to give his name. He said the city could use people to direct traffic on the streets increasingly clogged with residents, work crews and gawkers.
The needs in coming days are water, food and shelter, said Assistant Police Chief Rodney McGilvary.
"We really believe the cavalry is coming," McGilvary said. "They'll be here."
Not everyone was persuaded.
The city opened a new shelter Tuesday morning at the Michel 7th Grade School. By nightfall, 105 people had converged, most with only the clothes they wore. There were no emergency supplies and no promise of when any would arrive.
"We don't have anything, baby," said Doris Cherry, 37, two children in tow. "This is our house."