With the devastation of Hurricane Katrina now clear, the people of Gulfport, Miss., are coming to grips with the fact that many of their homes and businesses have been destroyed by the ferocious storm.
But, as NBC News' Janet Shamlian reports, the resiliency and optimism of the people of this region seem to be carrying the day.
What is the scene like there in Gulfport today?
Gulfport, Mississippi, is devastated emotionally and physically right now. Most houses have damage. Many are completely leveled. I have not seen one business that has been unscathed in this community.
People are now in the process of trying to get back to their homes and businesses after seeking shelter elsewhere. That’s the saddest part. Seeing them in tears, looking at their dream house or a business they’ve worked many years to build, now utterly destroyed.
Adding to that, it is very difficult to get around Gulfport. Every single street is littered with debris. Big debris — chairs, office furniture, dumpsters — that have been literally picked up and moved blocks away. This is a clean-up process that will take years, perhaps a decade or more, to get this city back to where it was. It’s a sad scene
Are people even out and about and on the streets?
People are slowly trying to come out. Of course, they want to know what happened to their homes and businesses, but it is so difficult to get around.
Already, I’ve seen a couple of cars with flat tires because there are nails from plywood everywhere. It is very treacherous here, yet people are coming out. They want to see what happened.
I’m not sure how long it will take authorities to clear the streets, because virtually every street is full of debris, including things like children’s toys and computers. I saw a huge statue that people told me was positioned along the beach, but it had been picked up and moved into the downtown area.
There was another situation where a bell from a church had been lifted up from the wind and rain and was in the second story of an attorney’s office. It is almost beyond belief.
Does it seem like the storm took people by surprise? That they were not anticipating this kind of devastation?
Many people have been here for many years and have lived through a big storm — Camille [in 1969]. A lot of these people ... really felt like they had prepared or evacuated adequately.
But, there was no preparation adequate for Katrina. This was something that this area has not seen and hopefully will not see again. So, in no way were they adequately prepared.
They are dealing with the aftermath of that right now. Many have no place to go, no transportation, no food, no water, no power. Add to that the emotional impact of losing everything in your life. It’s very sad.
How about communication? How are people getting information?
There is no communication. Unlike some hurricanes where the cell tower survives, there is no cell tower. So, it doesn’t matter what company you are with. No cell phones are working. No phones are working.
The only people I’ve seen with radios are the emergency-response personnel. Of course, they are going to the areas of first need. Not the areas that are totally devastated, they are trying to help people that are threatened or injured in some way.
So, basically, communication is impossible for everybody, for those of us who are covering the story as well as for the people who live here. [This report was transmitted from a TV satellite truck.] There is no good way to get information and that is just adding to the problems.
One other problem: There is no way to get fuel. There is no gas for a long way away from Gulfport. So, that is keeping many people from seeking help from friends or going to another community, because there is just no gas.
Is there one particular scene or one person that you spoke to that stood out and sort of encapsulating the devastation there?
Yes, there is. I spoke to a woman named Julie Durham. She and her daughter came back to their house, but there was no house there.
You know, you hear people say this all the time, but I thought that her comment was really poignant. She said, “Well, as long as you have your family, material things can be replaced.” Then she went on to say, “If I can say that, standing right here in my house, than anyone can have hope.”
That kind of sums up the resiliency and optimism of people who live in this beautiful area: It’s terrible, but it won’t be terrible forever.
Janet Shamlian is an NBC News Correspondent on assignment in Gulfport, Miss., to cover Hurricane Katrina.