UNITED STATES. Gulf Coast picks up pieces after hurricane

In the aftermath of Hurricane Elena's devastating assault on the Gulf Coast, thousands of anxious residents flocked back to their beach communities to begin picking up the pieces last week. A massive cleanup effort was underway from Tampa in central Florida to New Orleans. Damages from Elena's five-day visit to the region are expected to exceed $500 million. Hardest hit was coastal Mississippi, where the hurricane crashed ashore on the morning of Aug. 2 with winds of up to 125 miles per hour.

``It was devastating. What more can you say,'' said Jim Williams, chief administrator of Jackson county, which encompasses Gulfport and its 10,000 residents.

But thanks to massive evacuations in four states, Elena never became a ``killer'' hurricane. Only three deaths were attributed to the storm; fewer than 50 people were reported injured.

With Elena weakening to a squally rainstorm on its long overland trek, Gulf Coast residents poured out of emergency shelters and headed home.

In town after town from Louisiana to central Florida, they found flooded homes, caved-in roofs, capsized boats, toppled utility poles and felled power cables.

Many coastal dwellers were stunned by the evidence of Elena's destructive force. But some Gulfport residents took a stoical view of the storm that caused 1.6 million people to flee their homes in four states.

``Powerful hurricanes are a fact of life on this coast. Afterwards you just thank God you're alive and clean up the mess,'' said James Jackson, the owner of a trailer-home rental park that was hit by a tornado spawned by Elena.

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