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Waveland, Miss., Attempts to Restore Municipal Workings


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

As the weeks go by, even the most devastated communities along the Gulf Coast are taking steps to start functioning like cities and towns again. NPR's Chris Arnold went to Waveland, Mississippi, where Hurricane Katrina destroyed city buildings and nearly all of the town's 91 municipal vehicles, including every police car and fire truck.

CHRIS ARNOLD reporting:

Katrina hit the town of Waveland head-on with a storm surge 30 feet high. For miles along the coast, buildings and homes are just gone. All that's left of City Hall is part of a mosaic on the base of the front steps. Carol Shayu(ph) has lived in Waveland for 25 years.

Ms. CAROL SHAYU (Waveland Resident): It makes me want to cry because my--this was such a beautiful town before all this happened. I mean, until you've gone through it, it's hard to understand the devastation we face.

ARNOLD: But next to the bare concrete footprint of a building here, military-style domed tents have just been set up. The tents look more like an Arctic expedition, but this is, for now, Waveland City Hall, and city officials are here to deal with the day-to-day workings of local governments. People want permits so they can rebuild, Shayu wants to find out where to get her dog neutered, and there are lots of questions about FEMA trailers.

Unidentified Woman: We have two FEMA trailers and one regular fifth wheel.

ARNOLD: Inside one of the tents, Deborah Richter(ph), who lost her home, is talking to Christine Gallagher, who manages the city's permit department. Richter is trying to get electrical power hooked up to the trailers that her family and neighbors want to live in on their property.

Ms. CHRISTINE GALLAGHER (Manager, Permit Department): So you need to contact FEMA and ask them.

Ms. DEBORAH RICHTER (Waveland Resident): I did, and they told us, no, they don't do that. So, I mean, we get--it's always conflict of information, so we...

Ms. GALLAGHER: That's what they...

Ms. RICHTER: ...don't know what to do.

ARNOLD: Lots of residents are stopping by these big air-conditioned tents to report broken water pipes. Former auto mechanic Kenny Vincent(ph) says he finally got back to see his ruined house and found that a busted pipe has been continuing to flood the house and yard for weeks.

Mr. KENNY VINCENT (Waveland Resident): And it's wide open. It is wide open, coming out of a three-and-a-half-inch pipe. And I got three dead dogs back there I can't bury yet, so the mud is just staying mucky.

ARNOLD: The residents can get frustrated, but the city workers behind the desks smile at everyone who comes in. Marilyn Smith is administrative supervisor of public works. She's looking forward to getting some computers. They're still doing the city business here with pen and paper.

Ms. MARILYN SMITH (Administrative Supervisor of Public Works): And I hope soon we have telephones, 'cause we been using our personal cells...

(Soundbite of phone ringing, laughter)

Ms. SMITH: ...and getting calls all hours of the day and night. That's mine.

Marilyn, may I help you? Yes, sir, this is the water company.

ARNOLD: The police department's been getting back on its feet, too. Across town, Officer Israel Neff has just jumped into his new patrol car. With his car stereo playing, he speeds with lights flashing to respond to a call of shots being fired.

(Soundbite of music, siren)

ARNOLD: With a reporter in the car, Neff turns off the music. He doesn't find whoever was firing the shots, but he says it is nice to be back in a real police car.

Officer ISRAEL NEFF (Waveland Police Department): Like for the first week, we just got any piece of vehicle, machinery, bicycle as transportation to patrol the city. Me and another officer were actually the first two officers back on the street on foot. We had no radio communications to even contact anybody.

ARNOLD: Katrina flooded out the police department, sending officers and staff out into the storm hanging on to tree limbs for their lives. All their vehicles were lost, but outside the police department's main trailer, narcotics investigator Jeremy Skinner(ph) says other departments from Florida to Georgia to California have donated more than a dozen replacement police cruisers.

Officer JEREMY SKINNER (Waveland Police Department): Just all over. I mean, just brought in cars, equipment, shoes, clothes. All the police departments around the country have just been wonderful to us, and that's really the main and most help we've gotten is from other police officers and their departments, and that's what's gotten us to where we are right now.

ARNOLD: Since they're donated, the police cars are all different colors. A few have giant American flags painted on them with big `Waveland Police' logos.

Chris Arnold, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.