It's hard to feel good about being hit by a hurricane, but the people of southwestern Alabama are trying.
When Hurricane Katrina rocked the Gulf Coast on Monday, Mobile County saw unusually high flooding of eight to 12 feet in downtown Mobile, a blackout that affected more than 230,000 residents, the toppling of large trees around the area, and some particularly devastating damage to down-on-their-luck communities along Mobile Bay and the Mississippi Sound.
And yet the mantra of many public officials and ordinary residents in this region of 350,000 people seemed to be that, while things are bad, they could have been a lot worse -- just look west.
"If you compare it to the people in Louisiana and Mississippi, we fared pretty good," said Steve Huffman, a spokesman for the Mobile County Emergency Management Agency. "The water was the biggest factor, and most of it was already receding by today."
Area residents and business owners, some of them with plastic cans of extra gasoline strapped to their cars and pickup trucks, began returning to town Tuesday to inspect the damage and begin a rebuilding process that could take months.
Utility crews worked to restore power to 185,000 homes that were still without, and schools were closed indefinitely, with some serving as temporary homes to 2,000 refugees from the storm. Most businesses remained shuttered, and police directed traffic at major intersections.
A large oil rig stood pinned against a major suspension bridge after it was torn loose from its moorings Monday and was driven against the current and up the Mobile River by Katrina's surging waters.
Meanwhile, residents labored under a hot sun to clear fallen tree branches, driftwood and other debris from their yards. A few drove the streets looking for open grocery stores and gas stations, while others just wanted to look around.
Officials said they had no reports of deaths and only one injury, that of a man who was struck by a falling tree during the storm.
They cautioned, however, that Bayou La Batre and Dauphin Island -- two low-lying and hard-hit areas in southern Mobile County, parts of which were still under several feet of water -- were still were being searched late Tuesday.
Bennie Jones, 80, spent three hours Tuesday stacking more than 15 large limbs that had broken off the sweet gum trees outside his home on the city's southeast side. Jones and his wife, Ruth, 78, rode out the storm in the one-story brick house because she has seizures and is unable to travel.
"The storm was real, real rough," Bennie Jones said. "I've never been in one like that before. We were looking out the windows, hoping the water wouldn't get up to the house."
Not far away, the yard of Joan Lorge's home along Mobile Bay was littered with mud and debris, including two driftwood logs the size of minivans and another as big as a school bus -- all dragged inland by the storm-driven seas. The water and flotsam flattened Lorge's chain-link fence, inundated her air-conditioning unit and rose to within inches of the door of her house, which sits 18 feet above sea level on stone piers.
"I have lived here for 72 years, and this is the first time the water has ever got up this high," she said. "I don't even have flood insurance -- I never thought I needed it. The Lord looked out for us. I'm telling you, we are not complaining. We are thankful God spared us and we still have a roof over our heads; a lot of people don't."
Debbie Bryars, a spokeswoman for the Mobile Fire Department, returned to her home along Mobile Bay on Monday to find soaked furniture of unknown origin scattered about her yard. She is lucky, she said. Some people in the area have no homes to go back to.
"A lot of people were frankly just too poor to leave," Bryars said. "Because Mississippi got it so much harder than we did, we're reluctant to complain. We had a lot more water and it lasted longer than we expected. Once that water started coming, it came in fast and hard."