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September 3, 2005 WITH TASK FORCE ONE

Microbiology Associate
BS/BA, bio, life sci or rel. field.

No escaping the stench of devastation
By Tom Spalding
tom.spalding@indystar.com
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Star reporter Tom Spalding is in Mississippi along with a crew from WTHR (Channel 13), The Star's newsgathering partner, following emergency crews from Indiana as they respond to Hurricane Katrina.

BILOXI, Miss. -- While the sight of damaged houses, downed power lines and broken glass is overwhelming, I've learned it's the odor left from Hurricane Katrina that's inescapable.

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"You've got a mixture of garbage, decay from animal carcasses, sewage thrown up from the gulf and silt," said Scott McCarty, an Indianapolis firefighter and a member of Task Force One, the Indiana-based search and rescue team. "It's hard to describe," he said during a break in the task force's search for survivors. "We're here. We smell it. But these people have got to live in it." To some degree, you can separate the destruction that's everywhere here from the people who live in this city. The rubble is only wood and stone, after all. But the odor is a constant reminder of the suffering. In general, there's no running water. There's no electricity. Add the scorching heat -- temperatures have been reaching the 90s -- and dead fish and you have the makings of a stench that just won't quit. There's no air conditioning to speak of, so people can't just shut their doors and leave the odor behind. It's there when they go to bed, and it's there when they wake up in the morning. In a few cases, the odor signifies something else -- something people don't like to talk about: death.

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like to talk about: death. "Every once in a while you can smell the death in the air," said Paulette Gray, 47, who has lived in Biloxi for 12 years. "It's animals and it's human."
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Gray's house was destroyed by the hurricane, and she has a tent on the roof, which now is about 4 feet off the ground. She lives about 100 yards from an apartment complex that was destroyed. Some residents were killed. The whole combination adds to the fatigue of living here -- whether you are a child or an adult. Frensha Sims, 10, rode out the hurricane in her family's attic in Biloxi. She's tired of walking through her house and getting sand blown inside by the storm stuck on the bottom of her feet. She's tired of being hot and she's tired of the smell. "It's terrible," Frensha said of her life since Hurricane Katrina struck. "I don't like it."
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