Battered motels offer scant shelter
The Associated Press
BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. — Margaret Pertuit lies still on a bed in a dark, waterlogged room at the Economy Inn Motel, awaiting one of two things: death or rescue.
Her thin limbs are covered in the bruises common among people on blood thinners. But Pertuit, 85, has stopped taking her medication, half-hoping for the clot the drug is supposed to prevent. "I just hope it will take me," she says.
For thousands stranded along the Mississippi coast since Hurricane Katrina, the damaged hotels where they took refuge have become almost uninhabitable.
From one motel to the next, the conditions are the same: hot, smelly, soggy and dark. Toilets won't flush. Water won't run. Boredom won't end. Carpets are caked in mud and the concrete outside is often more inviting than the beds in the fetid rooms.
Just off Interstate 10 near Bay St. Louis, at what used to be a Waffles Plus restaurant and motel, Joanna Dubreuil and her two sons are luckier than most. Within the wreckage that surrounds them is an artesian well. The pump was carried away, so water gurgles nonstop from a white plastic pipe jutting from the ground.
Dubreuil washes sheets in it, but fearing contamination, tries to keep a toddler from drinking it.
Ten people are living at the Waffles Plus, which vehicles passed for five days without stopping. On the sixth morning, a church group pulled in and handed them a box of food — the first they had received.
Jimmy Dubreuil, 23, had tried earlier in the week to enter a Dollar Store several miles away but says he was chased out by a police officer who pistol-whipped him. A fresh gash on his head has been stapled shut. "They started telling us we're thieves," he says. "We're not thieves. We just wanted to feed the babies."
Muneer Ahmed, who owns the Economy Inn, sleeps outdoors like everyone else. His children, instead of attending classes at Bay High School, have been sweeping mud and carrying debris from the office and their first-floor kitchen.
His rooms are soaked and stink of mildew. The business he spent $300,000 building is in shambles.
"Ahmed's guests are staying for free, sleeping on the concrete in front of their doors and squatting behind the buildings to relieve themselves.
Despite the discomfort, guests like Noel Rowell stay put. He has no gas and no money, so he, his girlfriend and three children do the only thing they can: "We're sitting back, waiting for the United States of America to take care of us."
It is unclear when emergency officials will be able to help stuck guests leave, by providing gas or a ride. Until then, they rely on each other.
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company