In towns ravaged by surging waters and neighborhoods that had only begun to count the dead, Mississippi searched for survivors yesterday, and struggled to comprehend the devastation that Hurricane Katrina had wrought.
Rescue crews continued to pull survivors from the wreckage of buildings in this hard-hit Gulf Coast community, and emergency management officials vowed to keep up the hunt. Trained dogs were pressed into the search along the heavily damaged residential areas along U.S. Highway 90, fronting the Gulf of Mexico.
"We know there are people in other parts of the county who are alive and could be rescued and have not been," said Col. Joe Spraggins, civil defense director for Harrison County. "We're trying to get to them. . . . It's happening every minute that we're finding somebody in the rubble or hanging out of a building and has been fighting [to live] for the last few days."
After putting the estimated death toll at 100 on Tuesday, Spraggins pulled back the figure on Wednesday, saying it was wrong. He said officials knew the death toll was 40 as of noon on Tuesday, but a final figure was unavailable.
Part of the error was that officials had believed that 30 people were swept away at Biloxi's Quiet Water Beach apartments. While the complex was devastated, the death toll there probably was much lower, Spraggins said.
About 1,100 Harrison County residents remained in 20 shelters Wednesday, but the number of refugees was likely to increase as other residents returned to find their homes gone, officials said. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials were working with local authorities to determine how to house thousands of people.
"We may go into a tent-city world," Spraggins said. "I don't know what we're going to do, but we have to do something. We're still in hurricane season, and another one could hit."
Federal and state authorities said 85 truckloads of water were on their way, even as residents complained that relief supplies were taking too long. Eighteen trucks of water left over from Hurricane Dennis had been stationed in buildings along the Gulf Coast, but they were lost after Katrina destroyed or damaged the buildings.
About 2,500 utility workers from around the country arrived in the region by Wednesday to rebuild transmission lines and begin restoring power, a job that could take four weeks. Another 2,500 workers are expected soon. Inspectors concluded Wednesday that at least 70 percent of the county's power transmission lines were destroyed or seriously damaged.
Even as survivors complained that aid was not arriving quickly enough, many looked at the devastation around them and said their predominant emotion was gratitude. They were alive.
"I'd say we're blessed," said Gia James, 46, a food service manager for the local school system. "We're doing all right. We're just uncomfortable -- no air conditioning. We'll make it."
James stood in a queue of about 100 people outside a drugstore, hoping to buy snacks, water, paper towels and other items to help get her two children and one grandchild through the next few days. The family lives in central Gulfport, next to Biloxi, and rode out the storm in a one-story home, suffering only the loss of plasterboard in the kitchen.
James's daughter, Angelique James, said the family was low on water, and she expressed frustration with official relief efforts.
Periodically, officials would announce on the radio that water and ice were available for distribution at a nearby location, often a Wal-Mart. But by the time many folks got there, all the supplies were gone, several residents said.
"There's no definite plan," Angelique James, 21, said. "We saw some FEMA trucks coming in, but we don't know where they are setting up. And our radio keeps going in and out, so we don't know anything. We're hoping to get some kind of government help. I know they are coming; they just haven't gotten here yet."
Devastation was visible everywhere in Biloxi and Gulfport, especially in areas along the coast. Utility poles, snapped at the base, leaned dangerously over major roads, propped up by sagging power lines. Roofs of homes and businesses were blown off, and driftwood, furniture and loose debris littered roads and yards.
On Debuys Road, near the border of the two towns, a large industrial restaurant cooler was carried two blocks by the storm surge, coming to rest against the wall of a battered apartment complex. Not far away, a small lake stood in what used to be a parking lot of a Kmart. The major east-west thoroughfare of U.S. Highway 90 was virtually impassable along the beachfront because of broken glass, downed trees and other loose debris.
Most businesses remained closed, and long lines quickly formed outside gas stations that opened for a few hours.
In the little town of Saucier, in the northern part of Harrison County, Randy Broadus, 45, stood near the end of a line of 60 people outside the Windmill 1-stop Grocery, waiting to fill handheld containers with gasoline.
Broadus and his wife, Debbie Broadus, 41, rode out the storm in a hotel, which lost its roof. All the guests huddled together in one room. The couple later returned to their mobile home to find its roof gone. Nevertheless, they decided to stay put.
"I'm hoping it doesn't rain," Debbie Broadus said. Randy Broadus, a welder and pipe fitter, said relief efforts were too slow. People are hot, tired and thirsty, he said, and they need help faster than the authorities have been providing.
Antonio Carr, 26, a custodian from Biloxi, was another survivor.
"I was in my house, and the storm lifted the water up all the way to the roof," he said. "I climbed out a window and jumped on top of a van. Then I got in a boat that was tied up next door. I stayed in that boat until the rain let up and the water started to go down. Then I was able to go back in the house."
Carr said he was short on supplies but, like other survivors, was keeping his focus on the big picture.
"I'm doing what I can," he said. "I'm trying to keep water and food. I got a little water. I'm straight for now. In a couple of days, though, I don't know how I'm going to be. But I'm a survivor -- I'll make it."
Harrison County authorities said there had been some looting, and resulting arrests, but the problem was not widespread. Nevertheless, they imposed a 6 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew for most of the county. The small slice of the county along the Gulf Coast was under a 24-hour curfew, barred to everyone except residents. Wednesday, however, a group of gawkers flouted the curfew.
Residents and officials alike seemed in shock nearly 48 hours after Katrina thundered through. Many said the storm was the most powerful ever to hit the area.
"I grew up here along the coast," said Daniel Coleman, a spokesman for the Gulfport Fire Department. "We deal with hurricanes but not of the magnitude of this one. It's unusual. The damage is so widespread, and so much remains dangerous. People are trying to hold up, but everyone gets a little irritable after a while."
Spraggins, the emergency management official, warned that things would be difficult for some time.
"This is a long-term deal," he said. "We're not talking about going back to work on Monday morning and everything is going to be nice again.
"This is going to take months."
Vedantam reported from Washington.