In the middle of the night, gasoline is not secure here, even if it is inside the tank of a car. Gas is in such short supply that thieves are going up and down the streets here and siphoning it out of cars.

On Gerald Mays's street, some thugs even tried to carjack a man just to get his gas Saturday morning.

"At about 2 a.m. they were trying to jack a car in my neighborhood," said Mays, 39, who lives in Hyattsville, Md., but has been staying with his mother in Gulfport for the past month. "The National Guard saw them and said if they didn't put down their guns they would shoot to kill. I don't blame them."

The statewide death toll rose to 161 on Saturday. About 570,000 people are still without power, according to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, down from about a million right after Monday's hurricane. Around 12,500 people are living in shelters.

Ice, water, food and gas are priceless. With the sewage system not functioning, and water puddled in pockets across town, sanitation is a challenge.

"This is not a hurricane, this is not a disaster -- this is a catastrophe," said Robert Travnicek, health director for Harrison County.

While most of the attention has focused on coastal communities, preliminary damage estimates further inland showed that at least 400 homes were destroyed and 2,800 suffered major damage, said Tessie Smith, a MEMA public information officer. Nearly 100 businesses have been destroyed in the inland communities and about 600 were seriously damaged.

The Salvation Army is providing 30,000 meals per day. On Saturday, 43 truckloads of ice arrived in Harrison County, as well as 62 truckloads of water and 15 truckloads of military Meals Ready to Eat (MREs). By Sunday, 2,500 portable toilets should by in place, according to Col. Joe Spraggins, Harrison County's civil defense director.

Smith said the fuel situation statewide was improving but that Mississippi still needs help transporting supplies. Also, she said, as power returns to the state, gas stations that had fuel but were not able to pump would also come back into play.

"Fuel in many ways is the most immediate, urgent issue," Gov. Haley Barbour (R) said at a news briefing Friday.

The federal government calculates that Mississippi's 2.9 million residents use 4.2 million gallons of gasoline and 1 million gallons of jet fuel per day. It is ranked 12th in the nation in terms of energy consumption. It has 3,626 gasoline stations, which are about 2.1 percent of the nation's total.

The state's 1,412 oil wells produce 47,000 barrels of crude oil per day, or about 1 percent of the total crude oil production of the United States. It has four oil refineries that can distill 364,800 barrels per day, as well as major crude oil and liquefied petroleum pipelines.

Police do not have official numbers of arrests, but residents have stories about looting and stealing. And officers patrolling filling stations can talk about the guy who pulled a gun in an attempt to cut in line, or someone who tried to run over a gas station employee with a car because she stood in front of a pump designated for emergency vehicles only.

"My life is not worth three or four gallons of gas," said Angel Shivers, 20, who works at one of the few open Shell stations and was almost hit by an angry driver after she turned him away from the emergency-only pump.

Edwina Bond, district manager for Clark Oil, which operates the Shell station, said she has the electrical generators to power the pumps and keep her station open, but stocking up on gas has been difficult.

"Everybody is so overwhelmed that it's hard getting tanks into the stores," Bond said. "State troopers have been escorting tankers to make sure they get here safely."

Her levels were running low, and the lines at her station snaked six miles back on State Road 49.

A tanker arrived to cheers from the crowd, until they realized that it was filled with diesel fuel. The driver, James Anglin, said he tried to get gasoline to bring down, but when he arrived at his terminal in Collins, Miss., there was none.

"I couldn't get gasoline, so I got what I could and came down," Anglin said. "Gas is on allocation. Other people got there before we did and pulled it out."

He said he does not understand why there is no gas there; he has heard some of the pipes are damaged.

Anglin said he delivered gas to parts of Southern Mississippi in the past two days, and felt like a hero: "When the ladies see you coming, they run up and hug your neck."

Some people were pushing their automobiles in the line at the Shell station. To conserve fuel, most were not running the air conditioning in the 95-degree heat. Instead, they shielded themselves from the searing sun with umbrellas poked out driver's side windows.

Josh Jackson, 27, and his wife, Christina, 23, have been using a tank of gas a day to take ice, water and food to sick and elderly neighbors.

They came to the Shell station and waited three hours to get their $30 allotment. But they had only $20 in their pockets, so they put $5 worth of gas in their silver Pontiac Sunfire, which they were pushing because it was below empty. The rest went into a red gas can for their neighbor's generator.

""We're trying to take care of everyone we can," said Jackson, who lives in a neighborhood called North Ridge. "Our house is okay. But there are houses in our neighborhood that people will never live in again."

In his neighborhood, people have been siphoning gas from car tanks.

"They're taking it from anyone they can," Jackson said.

Mays, from Maryland, who saw the attempted carjacking the other night, said he plans to stay in town to look after his mother and some of her neighbors, who are stranded with no electricity or sewer service. Some of them barely have a home left. His mother is a diabetic who recently had a heart attack and stroke. Mays is not in top health, either. He has been undergoing chemotherapy treatments for prostate cancer.

"I got in town a month ago," he said. "I can't go nowhere until I know my mama's straight."

Vedantam reported from Washington.

Paul Lundberg, a possible victim of spreading dysentery, is checked for fever by Red Cross worker Barbara Collison at a school in Biloxi, Miss.

Gas lines on Interstate 10 near Biloxi, Miss., stretch for miles. Normally, Mississippi's 2.9 million residents use 4.2 million gallons of gas a day.