Crisis Draws a Community Closer

WHITE CYPRESS LAKES, Miss. -- On any ordinary day, it takes the residents here at least half an hour to get to the nearest grocery store. But that's why they chose to live out in the country, enveloped by towering loblolly pines and sycamores, their homes barely visible from the roads that wind through a series of subdivisions with only one way in and out.

Their bucolic, isolated life, 40 miles from Mississippi's Gulf Coast, turned ugly the day Hurricane Katrina struck. While coastal communities suffered the wrath of Katrina's storm surge, these 300 to 500 residents took the brunt of her winds.

And when the winds stopped, residents found themselves trapped by their beloved trees.

"You're out in the country, and nobody knows you're there," said Carol Catalano, who managed to drive out of her driveway and out of her subdivision on Saturday for the first time since the storm hit on Monday. "I was so depressed by this morning. I really didn't expect anyone to find me."

This community of mostly former New Orleans residents who fled the big city for the country sprung up in the 1990s. Much of its early years were spent squabbling over self-governance and the property owners association. Now, in a crisis, the members would have to bury their differences and come together.

By the weekend, Shirley Lott, John Adams and several neighbors had assembled their own emergency distribution center in one resident's private airplane hangar and had started handing out Meals-Ready-to-Eat, six-packs of bottled water and bags of ice.

They had to find diplomatic ways to impose limits on some residents who tried to claim more than a fair share of the limited supplies.

But they also found that the effort has brought them closer as a community.

"We're all talking to each other now," Adams said.

-- Sylvia Moreno

In the Astrodome, Faith and Hope

HOUSTON, Sept. 4 -- There was no singing at the Astrodome Sunday morning, just voices carrying words of encouragement that echoed throughout the cavernous complex housing nearly 25,000 evacuees. In the Reliant Center, one of the complex's three facilities, only a handful of men and women stood clapping, nodding their heads in agreement, crying and waving their hands during one of the 30-minute interfaith services.

Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, the Rev. William Lawson, Sheik Mustafa Mahmoud and Rabbi David Rosen told people to keep the faith.

One woman waved her hand as Rosen said, "Many of us are asking ourselves 'why.' Where is God when I need him so? . . . God answers you by sending you people to show you that you are not alone."

Another woman wearing dusty white slippers and a worn T-shirt wiped tears from her eyes and gripped her daughter's arm as Lawson told the Bible story of Job, who lost everything in a series of plagues.

"God does not explain why Job has suffered, but he ends up giving Job back twice what he has lost," Lawson said. "We don't know what God is going to do for you. God has not forgotten you. Nor had he forgotten Job."

"I almost forgot it was Sunday," the white-slippered woman said as she returned to her cot.

-- Krissah Williams

Bathrooms Scarce in Relief Effort

One of the side effects of Hurricane Katrina is that there is hardly a working bathroom on the coast of Mississippi. From Pascagoula to Waveland and back, the homeless begged relief workers for portable toilets, which appeared slow in arriving.

People sleeping in tents and cars did the best they could within the unhealthy environs of their towns, already wrecked, filthy and reeking from the storm water.

In Waveland, oysterman Johnny Watzke camped along with 50 or so other storm survivors in the parking lot of a shopping mall, where he rigged a makeshift toilet for his friends and relatives. Watzke, 26, salvaged a bedpan from the abandoned house of his aunt. He placed it in a tent with a roll of toilet paper.

If the rare bathrooms were to be found, they were in places such as the Convention Hall in Biloxi, where a tented complex was taking shape for relief workers. There, behind a checkpoint, not available to civilians, are rows and rows of portable johns, most of which have never been used.

They are sparkling clean, and exude the crisp acrid smell of disinfectant. And they are the only visible means of relief west of Mobile.

-- Sally Jenkins

From the Attic to Church

GULFPORT, Miss., Sept. 4 -- At the ravaged port, where every structure in sight has been torn apart and search crews are still scouring through the rubble for bodies, about a dozen people gathered Sunday morning for mass.

The tall building that used to be St. Peter's by-the-Sea Episcopal Church is half-standing.

But at 9:30 a.m., the Rev. Rob Dewey, senior chaplain for Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy -- he works with the FBI and ATF -- conducted a service. Almost all 12 worshipers were quietly crying.

"I come every Sunday; I wasn't going to miss this one," said Maria Watson, 62, who survived the storm in her attic with her husband, two dogs and a cat.

"I called two friends from my attic and said, 'I don't want "Amazing Grace" at my funeral,' " she said.

After the storm ended, they left their home. They haven't returned because the house was destroyed.

She is staying with her husband and animals in Long Beach, a nearby coastal town. Yesterday, Long Beach got its water service back.

"That flushing toilet sounds like Mozart to me," Watson said.

-- Allison Klein

A message on Shirley Lott's roof alerted FEMA crews, who discovered hundreds of residents stranded in White Cypress Lakes, Miss.