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Hurricane strips life to its most precious core

Five days after Hurricane Katrina tore apart my birthplace comprehending the depths of what has occurred is still a struggle. I am just going through the motions like a dazed squirrel.

On a personal level, our family was extremely blessed. My parents now live about an hours' drive from where we once lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which took Katrina's most powerful punch.

They survived the storm's wrath with only some downed trees. Now the most miserable part of any hurricane lingers - living in the sweltering heat with no power.

My parents are lucky. Estimates for returning power to their region - more than an hour's drive from landfall - is only a few weeks.

On the immediate coast, power isn't top priority for lots of people. Their needs are even more basic - water, food and shelter.

Our old neighborhood appears to be mostly gone. Finding familiar landmarks in the photos and video of the damage is nearly impossible.

The church building in which I first truly understood the message of Christ, is no longer there. That building, like countless others, was scoured from the land by the massive storm surge that almost certainly topped the building's roof as it struck. Only the cross high atop the structure would have been visible above the water, at least temporarily, before it too succumbed to the water.

Fortunately, keeping in decent contact with family has been relatively painless.

I was talking by telephone to my parents as the storm howled. I heard fear in my mother's voice.

At that point, Mom had no idea of the extent of devastation Katrina had brought ashore, but she correctly sensed it was bad.

She's since told me that she agrees with some emergency official who said, "God has some lesson in this for all of us. I don't know what it is yet, but it must be there."

My brother Todd lives near Picayune, Miss., approximately 40 miles or so from New Orleans. He and his wife's house is directly in Katrina's path. The storm passed overhead.

I was speaking with Todd, too, during the storm. We were on the phone when a tree gave into the wind and fell onto the roof of his house.

"My luck has got to run out soon," he wrote me in an e-mail after his telephone line was snapped by another tree. "The tree on the roof caused two leaks - one is leaking water into the bathtub and the other is going right into the toilet."

It was a moment of humor in an otherwise, sobering time.

Growing up on the coast, Todd is a storm veteran and someone who can always keep his bases covered and his options open. He's been living on generator power, carefully managed and carefully planned since the storm hit.

Unlike many, he still has Internet and TV access through a satellite dish. He's able to keep cool with a small air conditioner purchased for just such an occasion.

Todd managed to cut his way to the coast a few days ago to check on some other family.

"It looks like something out of Fallujah," he wrote, referring to the utter destruction on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. "But the worst thing I saw was the other day, when the eye passed over.

"I saw a momma squirrel running up and down trees holding her dead baby squirrel in her mouth," Todd wrote. "She didn't know what to do. There was nothing she could do and nowhere to go."

Stripped to the core of humanity, that's all any of us can do, pick up the remains and keep moving toward another tree.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Ironton Tribune. He can be reached at (740) 532-1441 ext. 12 or by e-mail to kevin.cooper@irontontribune.com.