JIM LEHRER: Now, the situation in Mississippi. Today, by way of videophone, Governor Haley Barbour provided an update on conditions in his state to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee meeting in Washington. Here are excerpts.
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR: There is tremendous damage way, way north of the coast, but the 80 miles across the Mississippi Gulf Coast is largely destroyed. A town like Waveland, Mississippi, has no inhabitable structures -- none. Our utility that serves the coast and the southeastern part of the state lost every transmission line, had two power plants put out of commission and virtually 100 percent of their customers lost power.
When you lose power, the telecommunications system falls down, because of the need for electricity, not to mention the fact that virtually all the towers were blown down. We lost water because the water systems run, and the sewer systems run on electricity. Today we have about 288,000 customers who still don't have power. The peak was about one million.
The Mississippi Power Company reports that they will have power to every customer who can receive power by Saturday, which is incredibly remarkable that in less than two weeks, they can have restored power because every one of their customers, just about, has lost power, and their power plants were out.
We're kind of turning the corner to where we're starting recovery, we're starting cleanup in most of our towns, and all of the part of south Mississippi is going to be improved when we get finished, but we are going to need a lot of help and it is going to take a lot of time.
JIM LEHRER: Many people in Mississippi's hurricane zone are not waiting for government help to arrive. They're surviving on community help. Tom Bearden reports from Gulfport.
TOM BEARDEN: A tree fell on Becky Schroeder's house in Gulfport, Mississippi, when Hurricane Katrina passed over. That would be pretty severe damage in most hurricanes, but compared to what this hurricane did to the Gulf Coast, it almost seems minor. But there are tens of thousands of residences with this kind of damage, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to literally camp out in homes without windows, doors, with big holes in the roof.
Like many people here, the Schroeders haven't waited for outside assistance. They started cleaning up their property and making repairs. There is no electricity or running water, and probably won't be for a month or more. They can live with that; what they're having a hard time dealing with is the fear.
BECKY SCHROEDER: We've had looting in the neighborhood. My next door neighbors have had jewelry stolen while they went to pick up supplies and things like that. So we stay awake at night, we sleep in shifts, we've formed a neighborhood watch between the four houses here and we kind of stand guard, you know?
TOM BEARDEN: Schroeder says she wept for joy when the first military helicopters flew overhead days after the storm. They still fly over ever few minutes. But she hasn't actually seen any guardsmen in her neighborhood.
BECKY SCHROEDER: I feel like if we had more Guard presence at an earlier point where they could come into the neighborhoods, we'd all feel safer and be able to sleep at night, at least.
TOM BEARDEN: The Schroeders have plenty of food and a generator is keeping a freezer running, but thousands of others can't be as self-sufficient. At Gulfport's Bel-Aire Baptist Church, a mobile kitchen is now serving more than 4,000 meals every day. With most grocery stores still closed, food is hard to come by. The kitchen is operated by the Georgia chapter of the Woodmen of the World, a fraternal charity group. Their convoy set out shortly after the hurricane passed, looking for the place they might do the most good. They heard about the church, and set up shop. There is no regular delivery schedule, people just show up with supplies, sometimes by the truckload. Later, they expect to get regular shipments from the Red Cross.
State manager Billy Groce says the politicians complaining about relief efforts being slow don't understand what groups like his have faced just getting here.
BILLY GROCE: They don't realize that, you know, you're traveling along and you have to stop because there's a tree across the road. Somebody's got to move that tree. You get the tree out of the way and you go another 30 foot and there's a power line.
TOM BEARDEN: The church parking lot is a 24-hour distribution center for donated supplies -- a steady stream of people browse the tables, taking what they need-- no paperwork to fill out, no questions asked. Sandra Clayton was having a hard time getting around because of an injury a couple of days ago.
SANDRA CLAYTON: The lights were out, had candle wax on my hand, I had some water I was trying to get in the freezer and dropped it. I broke my left two toes and the bones right across the top, and I'm supposed to see an orthopedic surgeon to get a pin put in, but the surgeon I was going to see was out of town.
TOM BEARDEN: Where are you getting most of the help you are getting?
SANDRA CLAYTON: Word of mouth and churches like this, that's it. I've tried Red Cross, can't -- so far haven't got any help.
TOM BEARDEN: How about FEMA or the feds?
SANDRA CLAYTON: FEMA, I finally got through last night, but they have -- they're telling you that you have a wait. So, like I said, if it weren't for these churches, we'd be out.
TOM BEARDEN: Pastor Lowry Anderson says people outside this area can't even fathom the number of people who need help.
PASTOR LOWRY ANDERSON: Within three miles of this church there's 23,000 people. So they're coming from all around. The first day we fed 1,800, and it's escalated from there. So word of mouth, and then most of them are staying around here. Some of them have lost everything, most of them, I think I could safely say, have severe roof damage and things like that, and of course, the economy's going to take it on the chin for awhile and that's why we're doing what we're doing.
TOM BEARDEN: In the meantime, what had been the most valuable part of Gulfport, its beachfront property, remains deserted. The owners have not been allowed to return, and when they are, they won't find much that is even recognizable. By some estimates, everything on the Mississippi Gulf Coast within a quarter mile of the water has been utterly destroyed.