- The Washington Times - Friday, September 2, 2005

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — Parts of this ravaged city almost rejoined the 21st century yesterday: Two Wendy’s fast-food restaurants reopened, the dialysis center got power and the electronic sliding doors of the Hawthorn Suites motel whooshed open.

After four long days, the lights went on in sections of this Southern Mississippi city. Just a few hours before, water had come out of the taps. Granted, it was brown, but it was water all the same. And after a few minutes, it ran clear.

“I’m fixin’ to get me a cheeseburger and a cold drink,” Willis Dillon said yesterday as he stood in line at the Wendy’s counter on the west side of Highway 49. “It’s been a long time since I had a hot meal. Sunday, I think. Or was it Tuesday?”

As patches along Highway 49 blinked to life, there were screams of joy and fulfilled dreams: air conditioning. Hot showers. Hot food. Clean hair. Eventually, ice.

In the parking lot of the Hawthorn Suites on Thursday night, a man holding a coffee pot filled with rum and Coke shouted “Yeah, baby. Yeah, baby. We got power.”

Yesterday morning, manager J.W. Smith smiled broadly and wiped his sweating brow. “Whew. It was rough going there for a while,” he said.

The advent of power, however, brought another set of worries. “I’ve got people begging for rooms,” Mr. Smith said. “Because we have air conditioning. The phone just rings and rings and every time we pick it up, the first thing that people say is, ‘I’ll pay anything.’”

Despite newly flowing electricity, gas lines remained the same long, twisting, patience-testing ordeal. Those stations that used generators Wednesday and Thursday to power their pumps now had dry tanks. At the few places that reopened yesterday with utility company power, cars backed up for blocks in the oppressive heat, creating snarls that required traffic cops.

But at the Hattiesburg Clinic Dialysis center, where the old and the infirm waited outside in wheelchairs and leaned on canes, no one minded waiting in line. It had been running on generators since Wednesday, offering the only dialysis for miles in a powerless area that stretched across county and state lines.

Yesterday, patients from New Orleans were headed to the clinic.

Earlean Kagins, 61, sat in her wheelchair waiting to hook up to a machine that would cleanse her blood. She lives in Columbia, about 60 miles to the west. She has only one kidney, and hasn’t had a dialysis treatment since Sunday. She should be treated every other day.

“I feel pretty good,” Mrs. Kagins said, fanning herself. “I don’t feel bad at all.” A diabetes sufferer, she has lost her sight to the disease.

But she is glad to be alive, and glad to have survived Katrina. So is her stepsister, Annie Leggett, who stands beside her. “I’m just happy to be here. Happy to be here. I don’t have no complaints. God kept us here for a reason. We just have to figure out what it is.”

Mrs. Kagins chuckles. “Might be a good one, might be a bad one,” she says.

“But here I am sitting here, blind, with no feet — missing one foot and part o’ the other. But I’m still here. Mmm-hmm. I’m still here.”

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