This was the exact spot that Felice Pawlowski figured her mother spent the last moments of her life before the house crashed down on her. Pawlowski kneeled in the middle of the mud-soaked debris and crusted red bricks, and wedged down three plastic yellow tulips so they stood out like a shock of color in a black-and-white photograph.
The rescue crews had been searching for days for her mother, Jane Mollere, 80, who refused to leave her brown reclining chair and oxygen tank even as the 30-foot wall of water thundered ashore Monday, violently pitching everything in its path.
"If we could just find her dress, just a piece of it, I would know," said Pawlowski, 47, who drove down from Georgia today to help find her mother's body. "It was a blue housedress.
"They already found one of her brown sandals," Pawlowski said, gesturing to a house across the street that had also been reduced to piles of sticks. "My mother's probably right over there."
Pawlowski's brother-in-law, two nieces and nephew survived the storm in a dramatic escape by swimming out of the house. They could not persuade Mollere to come with them. She had spent her entire life in Bay St. Louis.
"They saw the house fall on my mother," Pawlowski said.
Mollere was sure the house would survive Katrina, her daughter said, just as it had stood for the past 137 years, through several hurricanes and floods. In the 1920s, the building was a nightclub; in the 1930s it became a movie house; and it later became a convenience store and seafood market owned by the family, with an apartment upstairs.
Rescue workers found several other people dead in this seaside town west of Biloxi. A few days ago, they found a person -- not Mollere -- just across the street from where she had been, but workers said they could not tell if it was a man or a woman.
"It might be weeks or months until we get her," said Larry Collins, a Los Angeles firefighter and western branch director for FEMA's Mississippi rescue operation. "With the way the water surged, there's no way to know where people ended up."
She might even have been washed back into the mouth of the water, just several yards away, Collins said.
"There's everything in that water now," said Collins, who was on the street today with a crew to collect another body that the coroner had removed.
Pawlowski said she had heard rumors the coroner had found her mother, but when she went to check, they did not have Mollere.
Pawlowski said she is still in shock, unable to cry as she placed the flowers where she believes her mother perished.
"It's an unreal situation," she said, surveying the piles of rubble and shielding the intense afternoon sun from her face.
She took some comfort in knowing it was her mother's wish to stay in the apartment over the convenience store her family had owned for 27 years. When the storm began to rage, and the water reached the second floor, relatives tried to rush her out.
"She told them: 'I'm too old. I've made peace with the Lord,' " Pawlowski said. "Then she put her head down, and we know she was praying."
Pawlowski's brother-in-law, Kelvin Schulz, knew he had to escape with his children. Their home had begun to fall apart.
"I thought, 'My God, what did I get my family into?' " said Schulz, 53.
Mollere told her son-in-law she was too old to risk leaving her chair.
He shuttled his three children -- Alison, 21, Buddy, 17, and Suzanne, 10 -- onto the roof. They floated atop the debris that had now filled the streets, using it as a makeshift boat. But it was unsafe.
"The debris shooting by was like missiles," he said. "The rain was like being sandblasted."
They finally made it to shelter in a small boat, Schulz said, and rode out the rest of the storm there.
At 3 a.m. Tuesday, about 20 hours after Katrina hit, police arrived, and Schulz said he knew the worst was over. When the family emerged, most of their clothes had been torn off. Their limbs were cut and bruised.
Schulz said he did not know Katrina would strike with such awful force. He was told the storm would be like Hurricane Camille, which hit Mississippi in 1969 and was the most intense storm in recent memory. But he said this was much worse.
"If I died and went to hell, I think I'd have it on the devil because I been there," he said.
Pawlowski said hearing those details are difficult, because she can only imagine her mother trying to hold on in that fierce, raging storm.
She hopes to stay in town until they find her mother's body.
"As soon as we find it, we'll have a memorial service for her," Pawlowski said.