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THE NEW YORK TIMES: Lines for Gas Are Harbinger of Shattered Coast's Recovery: Wednesday 7 Sept 2005



Published: September 7, 2005


GULFPORT, Miss., Sept. 6 - It would be absurd to look at the ruins along the coast of Mississippi and say that things are getting back to normal.


Houses and stores are still spilling their insides; more than 15,000 people are still in Red Cross shelters in Mississippi, not to mention thousands more with friends and relatives; and military police officers are still blocking people from returning to their homes.


But there are some small signs of recovery.


For example, there are more people waiting in lines for gasoline.


While such lines have become a familiar sight this past week in places far from the gulf, they only started appearing here in Gulfport last weekend.


Since the day after the storm, gasoline has been primarily reserved for rescue workers, but that is slowly changing.


"Last Thursday we were open to emergency vehicles only," said Missy Scruggs, who was helping at a Shell station in Gulfport. The station opened to the public over the weekend, she said, but deliveries of gasoline have not been steady.


On Monday, she and the other employees waited from 8:30 a.m. until 6 in the evening, but no gasoline trucks came. On Tuesday, however, things were looking up.


"We got a load last night and we got another load this morning, so it must be doing better," Ms. Scruggs said. Some of the fuel tankers were escorted by police cars and Humvees.


The Coast Guard sent a ship to Gulfport with 1.6 million gallons of diesel fuel, intended for vehicles involved in recovery.


Over the past few days, gasoline stations have been opening up around Gulfport and Biloxi. A Shell station in Biloxi opened on Monday, and cars were in line at 4 a.m.


The owners of an Exxon station on Pass Road had a truckload of fuel delivered right before the storm, but they could not open until Tuesday, after passing a safety inspection.


Pat Schaeffer, the assistant manager, was directing cars as they formed a line snaking around a neighboring parking lot.


"We have a $40 maximum," Ms. Schaeffer said. Some stations had even lower limits.


Mississippi Power on Tuesday restored electricity to 91,000 customers, a little more than half of those who had lost power. All customers were expected to have power restored by Sunday, the authorities said.


Cellphones were slowly picking up signals again, solving one of the major problems of the recovery effort: the inability to communicate.


But despite all of the advances this week, the city is still far from normal.


The search and rescue missions continue. The death toll in the six counties closest to the gulf was 143; 12 of the bodies have been identified. Gov. Haley Barbour said the death toll for the state was 196.


But the emergency response operation is now in transition, said Joe Spraggins, the Harrison County director of emergency management. By the end of the week, the word "rescue" will be dropped entirely and the authorities will begin speaking of a recovery operation.


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