With much of their lives gone, Gulf Coast residents struggle on in hurricane’s wake

(U-WIRE) BILOXI, Miss. – Her friends want her to name the baby Katrina, but as Wendy Bryant stands – arms akimbo, belly swollen – in front of the pile that used to be her parents’ Victorian rental home, she says no way.

The pile between the tree with the tin stuck in its branches and the wooden board against the power line – that’s her own home and office. Bryant lived on Howard Avenue, just off the shore where barnacle-bottomed casino barges wound up in place of now-gone beachfront homes. Blue spray paint marks the side of one tall building: “Thank you Biloxi Fire Police Department. Mom we’re OK.”

Just down from Bryant’s property, city workers wait for a bus to take them to the police station for another round of cleanup. Saturday is the fifth day of this, and they’re jaded.

“Don’t listen to the TV about the body count,” says a man named Sam, pointing to a funeral home parking lot across the street. “Those three white refrigerator trucks are filled with bodies.”

Bryant points to where bodies turned up near her house. She wears her long brown hair in a ponytail and a gold cross around her neck. She’s thankful she fled to her sister’s home in Wool Market, knowing the low barometric pressure from the hurricane would’ve sent her into early labor.

Three of her family members sift through her parents’ rubble. They had already found her mother’s diamond earrings and pendant among the mess.

They also found a chair in the house that wasn’t there before the hurricane. “Save that,” Bryant tells them. “That’s from an island 12 miles away.”

They found Casper, her parents’ white cat who used to patrol the yard, hissing at Rottweilers. She sat atop the rubble, waiting for them when they got back. They wave to neighbors and cleanup volunteers while letting any potential looters know they’re watching.

The hot, dusty street smells like rotting food and natural gas and is quiet except for the haunting sounds of diesel engines and work trucks beeping in reverse.

Bryant’s sister, Lisa Jackson, tells a story one of the Howard Avenue old-timers told her, that a nun had placed a crucifix on a nearby hill before hurricane Camille in 1969, declaring the water wouldn’t reach that point. It didn’t.

This time, after a 25-foot storm surge, it did. Bryant ran a travel company from her Biloxi home. She’s relying on branches in Florida and Alabama these days and tells people when they ask how they can help, “Go buy travel. I don’t want it just for us,” she says. She hopes a casino will buy her land so she can relocate inland. She expects her first child in six weeks, and has settled into calm acceptance about her home.

“You can continue to get upset about it, or you can do what you can,” she says. She’ll name her daughter Lily Marie after her late grandmother.