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Victims find unlikely survival tools; murals serve as morale boosters

Katrina's survivors are making some remarkable, disastrous and profound discoveries. Here are a few of them.

Three unlikely objects helped save lives in tiny Pearlington, Miss.: a Tupperware clothes storage container, a bra and a fishing knife.

Story 1: Kathleen Bello fled Katrina's surge to the attic with her 8-month-old son, Hayden. His father, Frank, came to the rescue in a 12-foot Boston Whaler, but that presented a big problem. How to get Hayden down the steep steel roof into the boat rocking wildly 10 feet below?

Kathleen Bello spotted a Tupperware clothes bin. She emptied it, put Hayden in and sealed the top. Then she slid him down the roof into his father's arms.

"I knew we were going to catch him," said Claude Bello, a relative who steadied the boat. "There wasn't any choice."

Story 2: Melissa and Louis Hyde thought they could ride out Katrina in a trailer in a campsite.

They fled for high ground as the surge hit. When the high ground flooded, Melissa grabbed a branch to avoid being swept away. For insurance, she also grabbed a buoyant cooler as it floated by.

The cooler's handle was easier on her bloodied hands than the branch, so Melissa removed her bra, and tethered the cooler to the tree with it. Pain eased, she hung onto the handle for dear life.

Story 3: Tommie and Penny Dean fled their flooding house into the surge. They managed to cling to the house just long enough, however, for Tommie to fish a folding knife out of his pants and cut the line tethering his skiff to the house. They rode out the storm in it.

And what if he hadn't had the knife?

The surge, said Penny Dean, "would have pulled us away, sucked us under, and left us dead."

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Scott LoBaido's calling is painting American flag murals. LoBaido, 40, of New York City, has been doing it for 15 years. He got a lot of practice after Sept. 11. This week, he was atop a roof in Orange Grove, Miss., painting a 15-by-50 foot flag with a roller.

LoBaido said he hoped the flag would be a morale booster for survivors of a disaster that he'd foreseen.

The tip-off: LoBaido said that he watched a lot of TV before the storm hit, and "you could tell the newscasters were afraid."

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Elvis Gates IS there. The veteran Long Beach, Miss., State Farm agent works from sunup until the 8 p.m. curfew and gets high grades from his neighbors. Too often, Gates said, the news he's got is bad because few families' policies cover flooding from the storm surge.

"It's heartbreaking because I know people who've lost everything and I don't have what it's going to take to put their lives back together," Gates said.

On one occasion, it was the other way around, however. An elderly couple—he a former World War II tank commander—figured they had no coverage from a policy they'd taken out after Hurricane Camille in 1969.

They were covered, Gates determined. It didn't make up for those he couldn't help, he said, but it made a difference.

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Accepting help isn't easy. Joycelyn Davidson Barlow, who's from an old-line Biloxi family, realized that as she stepped across the rubble of her home to a Red Cross van handing out sandwiches.

"We've been here all our lives," Barlow told volunteer Amy Newman. "You never thought you'd be like this, begging for food."

"You're not begging for food," Newman replied. "We want to help."

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(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents George Pawlaczyk, Michael Newsom, Joshua Norman, Kate Magandy and Pam Firmin contributed to this report. Frank Greve of the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau compiled their dispatches.)

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

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

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