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Picking up the Pieces in Pass Christian, Miss.

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

PASS CHRISTIAN, Miss., Sept. 12, 2005 – This city of 9,000 people is gone.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
One of the few habitable structures in Pass Christian, Miss., the Shell Station at the corner of North Street and Henderson Avenue has become the temporary police department. The house wedged against the sign by Hurricane Katrina belongs to police dispatcher Gloria Sanders. Photo by 2nd Lt. Murray B. Shugars, Mississippi National Guard
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

There isn't a structure in this coastal city that Hurricane Katrina didn't destroy or damage. The antebellum homes that lined Route 90 along the beach have been reduced to kindling. The only thing left of homes is often a concrete slab scoured by sand and water and some brick columns.

Pass Christian's city hall? Gone. The city's police station? Gone. Stores? Homes? Condos? All are gone.

Servicemembers who served in Sarajevo, Bosnia, have an idea of the destruction in this city, but instead of bullet holes and artillery craters, the marks here are the water level marks on trees that survived the storm surge and the shells of houses that lean crazily to one side or another.

The village has been searched. Some died trying to ride the storm out in their homes. Guardsmen and local officials have searched every structure - you can't really call them houses anymore - in Pass Christian. The orange X's marked on the structures tell what they have found.

But there are signs of life. National Guardsmen from around the country are guarding the streets to ensure residents can recover what hasn't been washed out to sea.

Seabees from nearby Gulfport and engineers from the Mississippi Guard have cleared the streets, so Humvees and some personal vehicles can come in. A church group from Jackson, Miss., passes out food to those working in the ghost town. Doctors from Blacksburg, Va., work with local care providers to ensure everyone is healthy and has tetanus shots.

Katrina picked up a house in one neighborhood and dumped it under an awning at a gas station/convenience store. Under that awning are supplies donated from people all around the United States. Residents who need diapers or food or cleaning supplies can come by and pick them up. Under that awning and in the shadow of the house is Pass Christian's emergency operations center - a trailer sprouting high-tech antennas and manned by police and local officials.

Pass Christian, in short, is picking itself up with a lot of help from the rest of the United States.

One woman was indicative. She rode out the storm in her beach cottage. "Pretty stupid, huh?" she asked.

She felt she was in no danger because her home is 26 feet above sea level, plus none of the shelters would allow her to bring her pets. "They are my babies," she said. "I couldn't leave them." The water rose into her house, and she and her pets climbed into the bathtub as their last refuge. The water rose to the rim and she thought she was going to die. Then the water started dropping. The home right next door is nothing but kindling.

And now she is in her bungalow trying to salvage what she can. The home is still standing, and it is still on its foundation. She said she loves the town and the people in it.

And the people who work there feel the same. "This city is 80 percent totally destroyed," said Pass Christian Police Sgt. Bryan Deem. The sergeant is sunburned and hoarse from his near-constant duty.

"I lost everything, but I'm still alive," he said. "When this is all over, I'll probably go back to what's left of my home, cry a bit and drink a beer. Then I'll come on back."

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Related Sites:
Military Support in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina


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