By CAIN BURDEAU
Associated Press Writer
WAVELAND, Miss. Hurricane Katrina seemed to take a particular vengeance out on this town. The storm virtually wiped Waveland off the map, prompting state officials to say it took a harder hit from the wind and water than any other town along the coast.
Rescue workers there Wednesday found shell-shocked survivors scavenging what they could from homes and businesses that were completely washed away. The air smelled of natural gas, lumber and rotting flesh.
"Total devastation. There's nothing left," said Brian Mollere, a resident who was left cut and bruised. Katrina tore his clothes off and he had to dig in the debris for shorts and a T-shirt.
Katrina dragged away nearly every home and business within a half mile of the beach, leaving driveways and walkways to nowhere. The water scattered random reminders of what had been normal, quiet lives: family photos, Barbie dolls, jazz records, whiskey bottles.
The town of 7,000 about 35 miles east of New Orleans has been partially cut off because the U.S. 90 bridge over the Bay of St. Louis was destroyed. There is no power, no phones, no way out _ and nowhere to go.
State officials would not confirm a death toll in the town, but Mayor Tommy Longo estimated that at least 50 residents died, The Clarion-Ledger reported. City Hall is gone, with nothing but a knee-high mural of a beach scene still standing.
Mollere had set up camp on the wreckage where his family's two-story home and jewelry store once stood. A couple of chairs and a sheet of plastic protected him and his dog from the sun and spits of rain.
Mollere doesn't usually smoke, but he sucked on a Kool menthol and collected bottles of whiskey and Barq's root beer that had washed up nearby.
He recalled swimming out of the store with the dog as the water rose and finding shelter in a house that survived. "If it had been night, I would have drowned," he said.
His 80-year-old mother did drown in the storm. She had evacuated with some family to a grocery store in neighboring Bay St. Louis. As her family members swam away to escape the storm, his mother, who used an oxygen tank, stayed behind.
Mollere's father was a local folk hero for being one of the few people to stay behind in Waveland during Hurricane Camille in 1969. The elder Mollere swam along and grabbed onto a white horse, and both were saved.
On Wednesday, Jim Clack held the hand of his elderly mother, Mercedes Clack, and led her through the rubble of her Waveland home.
"You might fall, Mama," he said gently.
Mercedes Clack, blocking the glare with wraparound sunglasses, said of her splintered home: "Oh, that was a beautiful house. Remember it?"
She brightened when she found an antique radio and a few of her jazz records. "Do you think they can be salvaged?" she asked her son.
Other sweaty, mud-caked survivors camped out in shopping center parking lots in Waveland and neighboring Bay St. Louis, some using tents or mattresses they had been taken from stores. People lined up to get ice and bottled water distributed by emergency workers.
Frank Lombardo said he and his fiancee, Bridgette Favre, tried to weather the storm in their apartment, but moved to a high school in Bay St. Louis when the wind and rain grew too strong. He said he broke into the gym's football supply room to find cloth bandages to wrap some elderly people's wounds.
Marcel and Shannon Whavers and their 2-year-old daughter, Ayanna, stood Wednesday at the end of the devastated bridge that connected Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian. They said they felt cut off from the world.
"We're in trouble for a long time," said Shannon Whavers, 29.