From Stephen Majors and Mike Keller:
WAVELAND - North of the CSX railroad tracks, a quarter mile from the beachfront, at least structures stand in this Hancock County town.
The water flooded into homes, churches and stores rising above some roofs. According to one account, at the church next to the Waveland cemetery north of the tracks, residents climbed into the rafters to avoid water that rose 10 feet high.
The tracks themselves, which acted as surge break, are twisted and buckled where the rock-fill levee they were on washed away.
But south of the tracks, nature reclaimed her land with all the fury she could muster. There is nothing left. Walking north on Coleman Ave., a thoroughfare that was the center of the coastal community, the sounds of commerce, bars and school children yelling in their playground are all gone. The only sounds are those of helicopters overhead and gas escaping from broken pipes.
Everything has been leveled, save the skinned skeleton of the elementary school and its swing set outside.
Brian Mollere called Coleman Avenue home for 50 years.
On Monday at 9 a.m., courtesy of his 6'4" 280-pound frame, he became yet another member of his family to swim to safety during a hurricane.
His grandmother and mother had done it, and he said he was confident at the time that he could do it as well. His nieces and nephews represented the fourth generation. But Katrina took his 80-year-old mother from him.
"You would wonder why God would do something like this... I haven't had a chance to cry yet," said Mollere, as he sat working on a bicycle under a tent on the site of where his home used to be.
"I've got to find my mother and put her to rest. Life goes on."
Mollere lived just down the street from the Gulf of Mexico. Although he recalls the National Weather Service warning of a monster storm, Mollere said he never had any plans to leave. After all, his family has a history of weathering storms in the most intimate of fashions.
"They always think they know better than the Weather Service," Mollere said about people, like him, who have been through hurricanes before.
Mollere lived in a four-bedroom house on top of a jewelry and hardware store. When the water rose to a level of ten feet, Mollere said, he had no choice but to take the plunge from his roof. He grabbed his dog, Rocky, in one arm and jumped in while trying to hold onto his pants and keep his shoes on. He knew he would need them later, he said.
And as soon as he got past the initial shock of landing in the water and gaining his bearings - a "surreal" period of time that moved in slow motion - he knew he was going to make it. He would need the shoes and the pants. He swam north toward the train tracks with the current, a distance of about 500 yards.
"I'm a very good swimmer," Mollere said. "I guess it just wasn't my time to go."
On Thursday morning, he sat in a chair next to a shelving unit that held a few canned items and a bottle of Jack Daniels. He smoked a few cigarettes while describing his ordeal.
"I quit drinking and I quit smoking five years ago," Mollere said. "But I've picked them back up."
He was using a screwdriver to fasten a basket on the front of the bike so that he could take Rocky along with him.
Riding away from the ruins was going to be more enjoyable than swimming away from the storm.
Passing Mollere on his own tattered bicycle, an old man stopped for an interview with a TV cameraman.
"Try to have a good day," said the cameraman.
"I will," the old man said as he rode away. "Long as Ricky brings me water, I'll be O.K."
He would wait for Ricky Peters, the proprietor of Ricky's Bar & Grille. Peters' restaurant used to sit at the southern end of the avenue, one of the first buildings to meet Katrina's wind and water.
Peters' house was one of those north of the tracks that made it through.
"It's standing, but we had water to the ceiling," he said. "We had no water for Camille."
Hurricane Camille, which came ashore in 1969, used to be what all storms along the Mississippi Coast were judged against. After Monday, all that has changed.
"Everybody based their decision on Camille," Peters said as he walked around his business property in a daze. "Now we get something else to measure things."
He said that his restaurant, which he and partner Bill Boyd founded in 1999, was built in 1970 with the memory of Camille fresh in people's minds. The building was constructed on top of a four-foot thick slab of poured concrete.
On Monday that building was wiped clean off the slab, which buckled and cracked down the middle.
"This floor was flat and even," he said. "There were no cracks in it."
Peters, who is a New Orleans trained chef, pointed with a spatula to where the kitchen used to be.
"I'm only taking the spatula today," he said sadly. "It was the first thing I saw."
He then used the utensil to point at other barren slabs. Dempsey's was across the street and old Whitney bank just next to that. That vault almost stood up to the storm, he said. Further up used to be Jack's, Ramona's and Peterman's Grocery.
Just a few blocks closer to the water, Bill Fandison, 68, picked through the rubble of what had been a flea market. He said his girlfriend had had an antiques booth in the market. He immediately recognized an item of his that was sticking up out of the wreckage.
It was an antique pullcart from the 1940s, he said. At one point he wanted to sell it, but now he seemed thrilled to find it.
"There it is!" Fandison said. "You can't break steel."
Somebody had raised the American flag at the site of Waveland's City Hall, halfway between the tracks and Beach Blvd. Nothing blocked seeing it at either end of the street.
Lying in the rubble, a sign from the past: "From the people of Waveland. In appreciation and gratitude who gave of their time, energy and money to help us recover from Hurricane Camille. On August 17, 1969, our city was devastated, but those who cared came to her rescue."