McCOMB - Almost seven months after Hurricane Katrina, the devastation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast remains obvious.
But there are signs of progress.
Gov. Haley Barbour was quoted the other day as reporting more than 35 million cubic yards of debris have been removed, but there are still 10 million more to go. You can still see a lot of it for miles inland.
I went with a group from my church (McComb's First Baptist) last Saturday to spend a day doing assessment work for the Gulf Coast Baptist Association, an agency that includes Hancock, Harrison and Stone counties.
Thousands of volunteer workers and relief teams have been going to the Coast to help since the hurricane.
Our job Saturday simply was to canvass a neighborhood in Waveland to identify some property owners who need assistance and to fill out forms showing generally what kind of help they require.
The forms will be used in assigning repair and construction teams to specific jobs on future trips.
The beachfront property in Waveland is all gone, so all we did near the beach was look.
The area we surveyed was across the railroad tracks from the gulf. Apparently the railroad bed abated some of the tidal surge, and most of the houses, though heavily damaged, still stand.
It is in places like these where volunteer crews can hang Sheetrock, paint, put in new floors and roofs, or do other repairs.
Some of the houses we visited are livable. One nice one was occupied by a vibrant 95-year-old woman who sustained some damage but said her children and grandchildren were going to have it repaired.
The majority of the houses, however, are not ready for occupancy. Many had FEMA trailers parked in the yards while the owners and helpers worked on repairs.
At one house we were greeted by a group of Presbyterians from Tupelo who were doing the same thing we were lining up for Baptists to do later.
There's going to be plenty of work for anyone who wants to do it for a long time to come.
What impressed me most was the spirit of the residents we encountered.
Saturday was a beautiful spring day, and people were out working on their property. Many were helping repair other people's property.
There's a great deal of self-reliance down there. Several told us they didn't need any help, but they directed us to someone who did.
One lady, a schoolteacher, stood in front of her Acadian-style house and told how she and her family, including her husband who recently had undergone open-heart surgery, survived the hurricane by taking refuge on the second floor as the water rose. The front porch of the house was swept away and the interior almost gutted, but the family, now living in a trailer on the grounds, plans to reconstruct.
While willing to accept help, she directed us to a neighbor whom she said probably needs it more.
Another lady, cleaning out a wrecked storage building, pointed to a live oak tree near her house. The oak not only survived the storm but blocked a falling pine tree from crashing into her roof.
A FEMA employee told her that was "a blessing. I'd call it a miracle," she said.
Most of the people down there have a story to tell about the storm.
We were greeted courteously by everyone. Nearly all were highly complimentary of the religious groups that immediately responded to needs without red tape.
Riding across the railroad tracks back toward the beach, where the devastation is much worse, I saw one sign proclaiming that a certain insurance company "sucks."
Most signs and graffiti are more positive. Several declared, "I'm staying."