BILOXI, Miss. — This Mississippi city has taken a big hit from Hurricane Katrina with many of Biloxi's casinos and homes completely decimated and the estimates of dead climbing into the hundreds.
Jeff Ranieri, a Weather Plus Correspondent for NBC News, reported from Biloxi as the storm was barreling into the Gulf Coast region and describes the awful aftermath that no one could have anticipated.
Can you describe the scene in Biloxi?
The conditions are horrific in Biloxi. We are seeing more and more damage as we continue to travel through out the area.
Today we are in one of the hardest-hit areas — in Biloxi Point, a subdivision with about 200 homes. Many of those 200-plus homes are completely flattened.
Not only does it look like they suffered from storm surge with waves as high as 20-30 feet, and also the hurricane-force winds of Katrina — at a Category Four. But, it also looks as if, the way the damage is spread and scattered, like there might have possibly been tornadoes that moved in ahead of the hurricane.
Biloxi Point is one of the devastated areas in Biloxi. We’ve also seen the highest number of casualties in a concentrated region so far. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said that there were reports of up to 80 dead in the Biloxi area, but other officials have said that those estimates are probably low, and that the numbers of dead could reach well into the hundreds. So, it is certainly devastating.
We have seen homes with the foundations left, but no house to be found anywhere.
Were the people of Biloxi taken off guard by the severity of the storm?
Well, the original storm track had a lot of the heaviest winds going over New Orleans. Then the storm started to veer a little bit further east than expected.
But, in the beginning, they were calling for evacuations here. It’s just that so many people in the Biloxi region, from what we are hearing, were trying to compare this storm to Camille. You really can’t do that with hurricanes. You can’t compare one storm to the next, because it is really Mother Nature and things certainly vary from time to time and place to place.
So, a lot of people stayed here thinking, well, we made it through Camille, our house was OK in Camille; we’ll make it through Katrina.
A lot of those people waited it out in their homes. And, we’re finding that’s why the number of deaths is rising. A storm like this, trying to wait it out, and being so close to the ocean, you’re not going to find a lot of survivors in that area.
Can you explain what it was like to be reporting during Hurricane Katrina from right there in Biloxi?
We were in Biloxi, about three to four miles inland. So, we certainly were getting wind gusts in excess of 130 miles an hour. We started to see some flooding and some parking lots that were turning into rivers. But, we were far enough inland that we did not see the devastating effects, thankfully, from the storm surge.
The storm surge mainly affected the coastal areas about a mile inland. Basically, just ahead of the hurricane, you get a lot of water streaming up in those waves and it has to go somewhere, and it’s going to hit the coastline properties first. Video: Debris flies
That’s why right along Highway 90 in Biloxi, where a lot of the casinos and a lot of those beachfront properties are, we are finding them completely flattened and destroyed.
Homes were carried several blocks away, because they must have been floating at the time. It must have just been devastating here at the time if you made it through the storm and had to wade through that water.
When you were in the middle of the storm, could you imagine this incredible devastation that we’re now seeing in the aftermath?
Now seeing the damage, I don’t think that you could imagine that anything could do this much damage.
I spoke to one man yesterday who said that it really looked “like a war-zone.”
We were stationed three or four miles inland, and we certainly had some strong winds and had to go inside for our safety. We knew at that point it was really bad, because, obviously, the closer you get to the beach, the worse it was going to be.
If we were getting a lot of damage three to four miles inland, we knew that when we were going to go set up in the morning near the beach that it was going to be just horrific, and that’s pretty much what we found.
Have you seen any relief starting to reach people yet?
I think that today people will finally start to see that relief. Yesterday, there was a lot of debris in the way and they were having trouble here in Biloxi getting the crews in to help. We did see the Salvation Army setting up and the American Red Cross. But, the first truck and major supply of water didn’t arrive until about 10 p.m. last night.
So, this morning, there were a lot of people here in Biloxi Point possibly waiting for their first meal in maybe two days, their first drink of water. It’s been really tough for a lot of the people here.
Jeff Ranieri, a Weather Plus Correspondent for NBC News, is on assignment in Biloxi, Miss.