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In parts of Biloxi, residents live in squalor as they wait for FEMA

BILOXI, Miss.—As the Gulf Coast creeps back to life, some residents who remain in this city's ravaged eastern peninsula dwell in post-Katrina squalor, sleeping in molding, sludge-coated houses, digging holes for toilets and waiting for help.

Many haven't even contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but even for those who have, relief may be far off.

On Holley Street, a neighborhood of row houses, six neighbors whose homes have been marked as uninhabitable are sharing a vacant house, sleeping on flood-damaged mattresses. Newspapers and tarps cover the floor. The smell is of bleach, mold and acrid mud.

"I can't stay here but a couple more weeks. I'm tired of it," said Walter Chambers, 71, who's lived on Holley Street for two decades.

Chambers rode out Hurricane Katrina at home, in neck-high water with his wife, Pastora. They spent one night sleeping in a shelter hallway, then moved into the vacant house three doors down from their home.

In all, about 15 people, mostly renters, remain on the block where Katrina shoved many homes off their brick columns. Along the block, where none of the houses have electricity, orange spray paint marks houses that shouldn't be entered. Some residents ignore the warnings.

Louis Russell sleeps on a sofa on his front porch, behind the massive stump of an oak tree that Katrina yanked down across the corner of the house. Russell dug a hole out back for a latrine.

"Ain't no use in running. The worst is over. I'm going to kick it out and see what happens," he said. "What we need is some portable toilets."

Sherry Hamilton and her husband, Jessie Walker, sleep on their front porch, on a mattress she dragged from the floodwaters. The porch, buckled by Katrina, slants sharply toward the front of their home.

"I'm just disgusted by the whole idea of everything. What can I say? God bless me," she said as she traipsed through the sludge in her ravaged home. "As soon as I hear from FEMA, I'm getting out of here."

FEMA has ordered about 270,000 travel trailers for the Gulf Coast and is searching for rental housing near and far, said Tom Hegele, a FEMA spokesman.

But "this is not going to happen overnight. I wouldn't look for the 7th Cavalry to ride over the hill by tomorrow," he said. "I would not advise them to live in those conditions. You don't need to subject yourself to that."

Similar conditions exist in other pockets nearby, where shrimpers and east Biloxi stalwarts hold fort. At some point, city officials will order residents out and cordon off much of east Biloxi, said Vincent Creel, a city spokesman. A tent city also is in the works, he said.

"It's not going to be too much longer. I can't say days, weeks or months, but it's coming," Creel said. "We can't allow it to be unsafe for them or the city. Hopefully it won't come to the point where we have to force them to leave."

Creel said several services for Katrina victims are available within blocks of the neighborhood and that residents ultimately need to seek them out.

"You can't just wait for things to happen," he said. "This is not Domino's. We don't deliver."


(Simerman reports for the Contra Costa (Calif.) Times.)


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): WEA-KATRINA

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