Neighbors Team Up To Provide Security
By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 5, 2005; Page A23
BILOXI, Miss., Sept. 4 -- Jeffrey Powell yanked the cushions off his living room sofa and arranged them on the bed of his truck. Then he got his shotgun, made himself comfortable, and spent the night in his driveway, protecting his hurricane-ravaged home and enjoying whatever breeze he could catch on a steamy night.
Powell is part of the Popps Ferry Landing neighborhood watch, a group of citizens trying to restore order and peace in their middle-class community a week after Hurricane Katrina brought her chaos.
"We're not going to have any looters out here," said Dan Shearin, 56, Powell's next-door neighbor. "We have some burly men who are sleeping outside with guns. If the looters come, we'll take care of them."
They haven't shot anyone, but they had to scare off a few groups of people they didn't know in the middle of the night, Shearin said.
As stories of violent and desperate looters have made their way across Mississippi, people in communities where law enforcement has been overwhelmed are reaching for their guns to police their streets.
In Popps Ferry Landing, many neighbors had lived near each other for years but had never spoken. The realization that their safety and homes were vulnerable and police presence was scarce brought them together quickly. The Dollar Store up the road was looted and vandalized pretty badly.
"We haven't exactly seen organized law enforcement out here," said Hugh Worden, 53, who lives on the other side of Powell. "The first day after the storm, we saw law enforcement out here. After that, there's not been much patrol. I suppose police are protecting the main streets."
Worden, a manager at Treasure Bay Casino before it was destroyed, said he has talked to everyone within three blocks of his home.
"The good thing is, now we all know each other," he said.
Popps Ferry Landing is tucked away in an enclave of western Biloxi, not far from Pass Road, the main east-west thoroughfare through town. Most of the houses here are two-story Colonials built in the early 1990s, and valued between $100,000 and $175,000. Many lost all or part of their roofs in the storm, and on some the entire front was torn away, as well. Piles of wood and aluminum siding stand in yards. So many trees are down, the road is an obstacle course.
Shearin said he did not sleep outside with a gun, but like most of his neighbors, he owns one. He has a Smith & Wesson .38.
"If I see somebody who's not supposed to be here, I'd shoot over their head," he said. "I wouldn't shoot anyone. I'm not a violent person -- not yet, anyway."
Shearin, a retired phone salesman, said he has been disappointed that police don't have the manpower to deal with looters.
"What good is the federal government?" he asked. "You've got to take care of yourself."
Sitting on his porch drinking a bottle of Aquafina, Shearin said he'd never seen as much destruction as Katrina brought.
"The terrorists couldn't do this much damage," he said.
He and his wife, Dottie, said they'd like to get out of Biloxi for a while, but they, like their neighbors, have to stay and wait for insurance claim agents to come by and assess the damage. The Shearins lost half their roof and most of their back yard, including a new hot tub.
"We are waiting on the insurance agents," Dottie Shearin said. "They have to come by and make a visual inspection."
Around the corner, Marti McKay, 30, said she and other neighbors have scattered their cars around the street to make it look as if everyone is home. It was scariest before they got their power back Saturday.
"It's nerve-racking at night around here because it's so dark," McKay said. "It's so quiet. We're used to the sound of air conditioning, and lights."
Her housemate Robin Frey helped organize some spotlights in the neighborhood powered by generators. And neighbor Oliver Fayard, 49, walked the streets with a flashlight to check on everyone.
"You didn't have a choice but to get out there and network," Frey said. "We saw some cars we didn't know that came through the neighborhood. We gave them a look to kill. We made it known these are not vacant houses."