50 Dead in Harrison County Alone - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

50 Dead in Harrison County Alone

GULFPORT, MISSISSIPPI (AP) -- A Harrison County emergency official says an estimated 50 people are dead in coastal Mississippi as Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast. He also hinted that as officials surveyed the damage in the coming days, the number of deaths could climb.

Jim Pollard is a spokesman for the Harrison County emergency operations center. He said --quoting -- "The first report is always a little off. It's really too early to tell."

Pollard says about 30 are dead in Biloxi, and that many of the dead were found in Saint Charles Apartments, a complex near the beach. Pollard says the major tragedy is that a lot of the deaths were preventable.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency officials would NOT confirm those deaths.

MEMA officials say three of the four they have confirmed dead were a result of falling trees in central Mississippi. The fourth death confirmed by MEMA was in Harrison County, but details were not immediately available.

OTHER UPDATES:

RESCUE TEAMS VENTURING INTO NEIGHBORHOODS:
GULFPORT, MISSISSIPPI (AP) -- Rescue teams along the Mississippi Gulf Coast are preparing today to venture into neighborhoods engulfed by water to search for survivors and the dead in the wake of Katrina. Governor Haley Barbour warned evacuated residents to stay away, saying most could not get to their homes, anyway.

Katrina flooded roads and highways and toppled trees across the state. Barbour and emergency officials are planning to tour flooded neighborhoods and damaged areas this afternoon. Katrina was downgraded to a tropical storm late last night after leaving about 285,000 Mississippians without power. More than half of Entergy Mississippi's 410,000 customers lost power in the wake of the storm. Boil-water notices were issued in several counties.

Rescuers on the Mississippi coast pulled residents from rooftops as a storm surge swirled around buildings and homes Monday, leaving behind so much water that emergency officials had trouble determining how many deaths had occurred.

PRESIDENT BUSH COMMENTS:
RANCHO CUCAMONGA, CALIFORNIA (AP) -- President Bush says Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast "with a lot of ferocity." After getting the latest updates from federal emergency chiefs, the president told a California audience the storm was "terrible", but is now moving inland -- and the government is beginning to assess the damage.

Bush repeated assurances that the government will work closely with state and local officials to help the "good folks" affected by the monster storm. Bush has already declared major disasters in Mississippi and Louisiana. Aides say Bush has been getting regular briefings as he travels in Arizona and California -- including video links aboard Air Force One.

Meantime, officials say Bush is considering authorizing a release of crude oil from the nation's strategic reserve. The goal would be to replace Gulf of Mexico production cut off by the storm.

CASINOS DEALT FINANCIAL BLOW:
JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI (AP) -- Hurricane Katrina has dealt Mississippi's economy a major blow. The powerful storm silenced slot machines and halted card games on the flashy casinos that dot the Gulf Coast. The gambling houses are built on barges anchored just off the beach, and Governor Haley Barbour said during a midday briefing that emergency officials have received reports of water reaching the second or third floors of some casinos.

Barbour says there have been no reports of casinos breaking loose from moorings or having any other structural damage. It's unclear how long the gambling houses will remain closed.

Large industries, from shipyards to chemical plants, operate along the Mississippi and Alabama coastlines. Storm damage could delay production for days or weeks. About 14,000 people work in the dozen casinos along the Mississippi coastline. Each casino has a land-based hotel, and thousands more work in those. At Treasure Bay, a flashing sign said: "Closed due to Katrina. Katrina Go Away."

TELEPHONE SERVICE CUT:
UNDATED (AP) -- Cell phone service is spotty and long-distance callers are getting busy signals as Hurricane Katrina knocked out key telecommunications hubs along the Gulf Coast. Most long-distance and cellular providers reported trouble yesterday, while the dominant local phone provider for the hurricane zone, BellSouth Corporation, did not immediately quantify the extent of storm-related service disruptions.

Sprint Nextel Corporation's long-distance switch in New Orleans failed soon after the storm hit. Company spokesman Charles Fleckenstein says that means no long distance call could be placed into or out of the area. He says those who tried got busy signals or recordinggs informing them that all circuits were busy. He also attributed troubles to flooding and power loss.

Many of AT&T Corporation's facilities in the area were operating on backup generator power but some were completely down, likely because of flooding. Long-distance calls could not be properly relayed along the company's Gulf Coast fiber-optics routes. AT&T spokesman Jim Byrnes says its Internet data networks are operating fine.

There were no reports of the storm knocking down any cell phone towers, but many stopped working because of power problems.

STORM DISRUPTS ENERGY OUTPUT:
UNDATED (AP) -- Hurricane Katrina disrupted Gulf Coast petroleum output and rattled energy markets yesterday, sending crude-oil and natural-gas futures soaring and setting the stage for a spike in retail gasoline prices. The Bush administration is considering releasing oil from the nation's emergency stockpile while analysts await details on the extent of the damage to the region's platforms, pipelines, refineries and electric grid.

By late yesterday, several refiners said damage at their plants appeared to be minimal and oil prices retreated from the day's highs above 70 dollars a barrel. But, if a bleaker picture emerges in the days ahead, analysts say prices could run up once again. Lawrence Goldstein of the New York-based nonprofit Petroleum Industry Research Foundation says based on conversations with oil and gas companies it appears that Katrina will NOT interrupt the region's operations as significantly as last year's Hurricane Ivan.

IOWA SENDS HELP:
DES MOINES, IOWA (AP) -- Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack will send flood control experts to Louisiana and Mississippi, where Hurricane Katrina slammed onto shore yesterday. Governor Vilsack says the experts will share the experience they gathered during Iowa's 1993 flood. The state of Iowa will send any extra people that are needed to help Louisiana and Mississippi deal with the aftermath of Katrina.

Much of the damage caused by that storm came from heavy rains and a big storm surge that swamped the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi. The governor also says he's sending a series of letters warning of looming dangers of energy prices linked to the hurricane, which interrupted oil production in the Gulf of Mexico.

Vilsack says he'll send a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller seeking a Federal Trade Commission investigation of gasoline prices.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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