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Thursday, October 27, 2005

A Cold Wind

Since no one pays attention to Mississippi unless the call to focus is coming from outside the state, have a look at this story from the LA Times on the devolving situation in Biloxi:

In the afternoon, when it is warm, Valentina and Gary Stilwell can almost forget there are no walls around them. Valentina has hung one of her paintings on a tree, and there is a bowl of hard candies on the coffee table. The concrete slab beneath them is as spotless as linoleum.

But Sunday night a cold wind shuddered through east Biloxi, shaking their tent so badly that Gary had to get up several times to drive the stakes back into the ground. Gary and Valentina slept in half-hour lulls between the gusts of wind, and in the morning the weight of what they had been through bore down hard.

"There's nobody that can do anything for us," said Gary, a 62-year-old Vietnam veteran. Valentina, 44, put it more bluntly.

"I said to the FEMA guy, if you can't bring me my trailer, just bring me a .38 and a bullet," she said.
It's bad and getting worse. No matter what praise the chief apologist, Haley Barbour, lays on FEMA and the Bush administration's response to the storm, the devastation....and, since the need somehow seems to be less clear, the lingering aftermath. And to top things off, it's beginning to get cold down here.
"What people don't understand is that it is an emergency situation," said Bill Stallworth, city councilman for Biloxi's Ward 2, which includes much of east Biloxi. "You don't have any place to go, and you're sitting there, and you're starting to freeze."

The residents of New Orleans' poorest neighborhoods were evacuated to hotels or temporary shelters until they could face the staggering question of whether to return to a ruined place. But in impoverished east Biloxi, many residents never left or returned to stay beside their modest homes and wait for the delivery of a trailer from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

There is no count of how many people are living in tents, but aid agencies have distributed more than 1,000. Stallworth estimated that 1,000 to 1,500 people were living in tents, even as temperatures began dropping into the low 40s at night. [...]

Kala Willis became so worried about her two older children that she sent them to stay with relatives two weeks ago; only the 2-year-old, Ashanti, remains. Willis has been putting Ashanti to bed fully dressed, wearing a hat and gloves, and piles her with blankets, but they still wake up in the morning covered with freezing dew, said Andrea Harris, 42, Willis' sister. "You can't sleep from shaking so hard," she said. [...]

In an encampment of six tents on Howard Street, Gerald Perry sleeps with an ax under his pillow. Perry, 56, has a tattoo that reads "Born to Lose," and described his days this way: A fifth of whiskey first thing in the morning, a second fifth at 2 p.m., and then, about 6 p.m., something to knock him out completely.

He said memories of the flood haunted him. Perry started to talk about finding bodies after the storm, but his friend, a tall, white-bearded man known as Daddy, interrupted him. There is a house rule against talking about dead bodies. But the warning came too late for Perry, who started to cry.

"We're in bad shape, we know that," Perry said. "What it is, is trying to stay drunk, trying to forget."

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