After the Nightmare

09/01/2005 at 12:00 PM EDT

After the Nightmare
A neighbor comforts Sam Miller, 10, whose Pascagoula, Miss., home was destroyed.
Katrina seemed a fairly modest hurricane at first. But then it hit Florida Aug. 25, picked up strength in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and roared onto the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29 as a category four hurricane – the second most severe possible. Its 145-mph winds, huge storm surge and torrential rains flooded whole towns and cut a devastating swath through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

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The full extent of the disaster won't be known for months, but when the storm subsided, it had left hundreds dead or missing, more than 1 million others temporarily homeless and caused at least $25 billion in damage. "This," said Biloxi, Miss., Mayor A.J. Holloway, "is our tsunami."

All along the Gulf Coast, the scene was apocalyptic: thousands of cars out of gas and abandoned on streets and highways, downed power lines casting towns into darkness, stunned citizens picking through mountains of debris, no food, no working phones, no water. Here Katrina's survivors tell their harrowing, and heroic, tales.

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