In the east end of Biloxi, which has suffered some of the worst hurricane damage on the Gulf Coast, many residents still are living in houses coated in sludge, surrounded by moldering walls and piles of debris.
No one has told them they should not stay there, that the sludge is possibly toxic, or that their water, if they have any, needs to be boiled before they use it. And because people here have few alternatives -- the east end of Biloxi includes the city's poorest neighborhoods -- people are staying put, spending their days cleaning up muck in the rooms they sleep in at night.
In the first days after the hurricane, search-and-rescue crews worked some streets. They spray-painted orange X's on the houses that had been checked for bodies and marked squares bisected by diagonal lines on houses that were dangerous to be in. But only streets that were obviously devastated were checked.
Since then, no one has knocked on any doors in the east end. Church and volunteer groups drive by offering food, water and clothes. But beyond survival assistance, residents say, they have been on their own. Most have no radios. They are cut off from all communications, save for what they might hear from volunteers.
"I got no gas, water pressure is too low, and I got no soap," said Sadie Moss, 78. She and her son, Franklin, whose house was torn to pieces, are staying in her cramped shotgun shack, with no toilet or way to bathe. Nearly two weeks after they started cleaning up -- the hurricane sent seven feet of water coursing through the house -- the Mosses are still walking around in muck in their sandals. They know it is not sanitary but say they have nowhere else to go.
"The shelters are full, I hear," said Franklin Moss, 48. "I was staying in my truck for a few days, but that got hot."
Biloxi officials said they know people in the east end are in dire straits, but the city can do little until it gets more outside assistance. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has yet to set up a disaster relief center in the city -- a FEMA spokesman, Gene Romano, said the agency is working with officials to locate a site it can use -- and has yet to send trailers or tents that the city can use to relocate residents.
"We've been going through neighborhoods condemning houses," said Mayor A.J. Holloway, "but we need somewhere to relocate them. FEMA keeps saying, 'any day.' "
Bill Stallworth, a City Council member, said 80 percent of the housing stock in his constituency, Ward 2, and its neighbor, Ward 1 -- with a total of 20,000 of the city's poorest residents -- was either lost completely or uninhabitable.
"Where's the Red Cross? Where'sFEMA?" asked Stallworth, whose own home was destroyed. "I don't know where the heck they are. This was one of the most heavily devastated areas on the coast, and they keep saying, 'Call this 1-800 number.' I'm just thoroughly frustrated with the level of help from the government."
Harrison County officials said they have been on a search-and-rescue mission for the past two weeks and haven't had the time or resources to do more.
"Are people expecting people to knock on their doors and rescue them?" asked Jim Troiano, a spokesman for the county administration. "That's not going to happen. They need to go to the Red Cross, they need to go to FEMA. Those who can't do that, well, those are the ones we'll try to reach. But we're not there yet."
The Red Cross has four stations in Biloxi, and the Salvation Army -- which residents and local officials made a point of praising -- has a large center set up in the city's Yankee Stadium.
Until FEMA sets up a disaster center in Biloxi, said Romano, the agency is asking residents who need help to call the agency disaster-assistance hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But FEMA officials acknowledged that the lines have been inundated and are often busy.
The county medical director, Robert Travnicek, said that the people of east Biloxi will probably be next to get help.
"That has been on the plate since day one," said Travnicek, who said he visited Biloxi Sunday. "We've been fighting World War III. All I can tell you is that this is day one of the next phase of the war."
But Stallworth said that the area should have been a priority from the outset. "These are not the upper-income areas," he said, "consequently they're going to be the last to be served."
He said he has been seeking ways to financially protect residents who are cleaning up their houses in hopes they can be salvaged. He sponsored a resolution passed by the City Council last week, he said, that asked President Bush to declare the east end a "wind-driven storm" area, as was done for victims of Hurricane Andrew in Florida.
That way, he said, insurance companies that are denying claims by declaring damage to homes "flood damage," which would require flood insurance, would have to honor home owners' general insurance policies. He also said he has enlisted the help of the private relief agency Oxfam America and other groups to lobby Congress to pass legislation that would force insurance companies to honor claims for hurricane damage.
A crew from the Mexican National Guard spent the day in the east end clearing debris from the roads. Nearby, a lone volunteer from Chicago, Tim Gillian, was manning a food and water distribution point directly in front of Sadie Moss's house. He was worried that she would get sick staying inside.
So was she.
"I know we can't get by on bleach water," she said.