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A blind guide dog; a party in New Orleans; miracles never cease

BILOXI, Miss.—Some hurricane survivors find shards of beauty in their shattered lives. Here are some of them:

Just when George Mitchell of Biloxi was sure that Hurricane Katrina would drown him, his best friend did something that Mitchell thinks saved his life.

Frisky licked his face. Mitchell, 80, who'd hoisted his half-poodle half-schnauzer onto his floating mattress, had been treading water for four hours at the storm's peak in a bedroom filled with junk, fish and water snakes.

"I was about ready to quit," said Mitchell, "and he started licking my face to make me snap out of it. He knew I was going, but he wouldn't let me go."

Mitchell, a widower, is hospitalized now with deep cuts in his feet. Dogs aren't allowed in the hospital, but Frisky, who's blind, sleeps beside him on a pillow on the floor.

Mitchell, who's blind in one eye himself, told the receptionist that Frisky was a Seeing Eye dog who'd saved his life.

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A midnight rain in Gulfport stirred Kim Warner to action last weekend.

She rose from her sleeping mat in the grade-school classroom that she and her 5-year-old son, Andrew, now call home. Clutching a towel and a shampoo bottle, Warner shuffled toward a cascade of cold water spewing from a busted roof gutter.

"People laughed when I first did it. Then I turn around and three people are standing in line," Warner said after her first shower in days.

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Awed to find the CVS in Jackson Parish, La., fully operational, air-conditioning included, a customer assured manager Ron Cavaretta: "It's so cold and refreshing in here, I'm going to come shopping several times."

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Tony Olier, a legally blind man who lives to cast-net fish, decided that he'd ride out Katrina in Room 108 of the Tivoli Motel in Biloxi. He retreated to the second floor when he had to, then to the roof with 14 others. Olier, 46, tried to convince them that the next building would be safer; seven, including him, went. Then the Grand Casino barge started grinding into their new refuge.

"I was an altar boy for six years, and I haven't prayed so hard since," Olier said.

He asked God to shift the wind and move the barge.

The wind shifted and the barge moved. The storm subsided.

It flattened the Tivoli, however, and Olier hasn't seen the eight people who stayed behind.

"That's why I'm wearing my lucky 7 hat," he said. "Seven of us got out."

He also saved his casting net.

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A sea lion turned up in a devastated neighborhood south of Gulfport's railroad tracks Monday night, a week after her nearby home at Marine World was wrecked. She peeked out, gray and dry, from beneath a house that was in shambles.

"She put her nose right up to my hand," Sandra Bercegay said, and for this trick the animal expected a treat. Bercegay poured water through a hole in the porch, which the 4-footer loved, then fed her a flounder.

Marine World staffers recovered the sea lion, dubbed Olivia, and are taking her to Sea World in Orlando, Fla., along with a second sea lion that was rescued in the neighborhood.

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Joshua Clark and some other stick-it-outers were walking back from a cleanup in New Orleans' Jackson Square last weekend when the police drove up.

"The Army is going to be kicking down every door!" one officer hollered. "You must leave. You must leave now!"

The police yelled some more, then zoomed off.

Clark, whom a friend had given the run of his French Quarter apartment, opened the apartment complex's gate and walked around the big green patio umbrellas that he and his band of eccentric survivors had felled to hide the courtyard from the street.

A thick canopy of trees obscured the swimming pool from the searchlights of choppers overhead.

And the party started. Trey fired up a joint. Derek strummed his guitar. The pool cooled the beers a little. There were scotch and vodka on a small table, plus Mardi Gras beads, plastic cups, condoms, matches for the candles and two military-style meals.

Clark cooked up some jambalaya. Somebody wondered which songs get stuck in your head the most. "Anything Goes" won.

Ty, spotting a butt on the pool patio, flicked it into a trash can.

"We try to stay civilized here," he explained, then dived into the pool.

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(Knight Ridder correspondents Natalie Pompilio, John Simerman, Scott Marshall, Patrick May, David Ovalle and Mark Washburn contributed to this report.)

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

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