Comfort Food

GULFPORT, Miss., Sept. 9 -- The rumor spreading across the Gulf Coast was actually true this time: A restaurant was open, and it was serving cold beer.

At 4 p.m., the line to enter T.G.I. Friday's at the Crossroads Mall was snaked out the door and growing. People were putting in their orders for the $6 dinners -- for an entree, they could choose half a slab of barbecued ribs, a chicken sandwich or a hamburger -- as if they had not seen a good, hot meal in a long time -- which, of course, they hadn't.

Six days ago, the restaurant, part of a chain that specializes in fun-time food, opened its doors to the public, thanks to a giant generator parked out back and an ultraviolet sterilization system that cleaned the city water coursing through the restaurant's plumbing.

It was not business as usual. The restaurant closes at 6:30 p.m. to meet Gulfport's 8 p.m. curfew. A sign on the door lists the names of all 71 restaurant employees and their status ("home destroyed, left for Memphis," "home damaged, still working"). Large stacks of clothes, free for the taking, greet patrons on their way to the door. And the restaurant is always full of men and women in uniform -- doctors and nurses in scrubs, police, National Guard troops, police officers.

Word really got out about the restaurant only Wednesday, said Loren Lasure, the general manager. That day, it served 2,150 meals, and the line was yards long. Since then, it has served 1,500 to 2,000 meals a day.

The people who take the orders at the door -- another post-hurricane improvisation -- get offered $20 for a hamburger by desperate people who show up too late to be served. But other patrons just come to nurse a beer.

On Friday, that included Brendan Brinkley and Gary Sullivan, a bartender and manager, respectively, at a nearby Chili's -- due on Sunday to become the second full-service restaurant to open in these parts. Brinkley, who lost his house in Pass Christian, was in good spirits drinking Bud Lights. "Hey, my outlook is 'Be lighthearted,' " said Brinkley, 33. "What are you drinkin'?"

-- Evelyn Nieves

Something Spicy

ATLANTA, Sept. 9 -- After being rescued by bus from New Orleans by an Atlanta church, some of the 300 evacuees are repaying the generosity with something they know best -- Cajun cooking.

Members of the Antioch Lakewood Mission Church have been treated to genuine Cajun cuisine in recent days as a sign of appreciation by evacuees who have been staying at the church this week.

"We're used to cooking. This made me feel good to give back," said Joyce Jackson, while busy preparing a huge gumbo meal for many of the church's 12,000 members.

Jackson, 51, and several of her family members were rescued from the New Orleans Convention Center last weekend on one of five buses that the church sent down on its own dime to help get people out of the flooded city.

Forty-seven of the evacuees have been staying at a shelter set up at the church near downtown Atlanta. Most of the other evacuees who rode the church's buses are staying at other shelters and churches in Georgia and Alabama.

Medical care from an Atlanta area doctor, new clothes, toiletries, food and water were provided through the local church. About 250 church members and pastors have offered counseling and Bible study classes to the evacuees.

Evacuees who wanted to go also were treated to a concert by gospel singer Vickie Winans at the National Baptist Convention's annual meeting held this week in downtown Atlanta.

"We really love people," said the Rev. Cameron Alexander, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church, a neighboring church that is affiliated with Lakewood Mission. "They were in a nowhere-to-go land, a nothing-to-do land. We had to do it. That type of love won't let you pass over some people and not help."

-- Associated Press

Whither Slither?

New Orleans, besieged by wind, rain, flood and fire from Hurricane Katrina, can rest easy about one thing: snakes.

The water that surged past broken levees and into the city came from the "nearly snakeless Lake Pontchartrain," according to Jeff Boundy, a biologist for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Reports that the reptiles were gliding, sliding and wriggling into New Orleans aren't supported by emergency workers, who haven't reported any sightings, Boundy wrote in an e-mail. There's no increased risk of snakebite, he said.

"Water snakes and alligators are common around New Orleans and enter the city basin via canals. But those canals occupy a very small percentage of the total city area," said Boundy, 46. "When the water surface area expands to many magnitudes, the snakes and alligators spread over a vast region, becoming relatively scarce."

Of the six venomous snake species in the state, only the cottonmouth is aquatic, and flooding would kill the other species, said Boundy, who wrote a book on the state's snakes. Some snakes in marshes might have washed onto higher ground and would have dispersed quickly, he said.

People involved in cleanup operations should look for snakes hidden by debris, he said. About one in 10,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes each year in Louisiana, according to Louisiana's wildlife and fisheries Web site.

Most snakes that enter houses aren't venomous, such as rat snakes and brown snakes, according to the state's Web site. The harmless brown snakes are often killed because they are mistaken for pygmy rattlesnakes or ground rattlers, Boundy said.

"Children are locked indoors, azalea beds are destroyed, grown men parade about with tiny brown 'worms' that they have dispatched with a tire iron," said Boundy, who wrote "Snakes of Louisiana."

-- Bloomberg News