GULFPORT, Miss. – A few familiar routines of normal life slowly returned to the Mississippi Gulf Coast (search) on Friday, with many Hurricane Katrina (search) victims going to work, eating hot meals and beginning to rebuild.
Lumber and home stores were open, and customers were buying supplies to repair their broken houses. A number of fast food restaurants were open for breakfast. Some people didn't even have to wait in line for gas.
And thousands woke up to their first morning with electricity since the storm.
"When the lights came on, that was a blessing from God," said Eddie Bigelow. "Every day is a little better. It's like giant steps, if you saw this place last Tuesday."
Bigelow, wearing a T-shirt that said "Don't let reality ruin your day," was starting to assess what repairs needed to be made to her father's house and was eager to get to work.
"It's like therapy, you feel like you have to do something," said Bigelow, 55.
Some people were back at their jobs. Five hundred employees at an Oreck vacuum factory reported to work Friday.
A sign scrawled on a piece of plywood along a major thoroughfare pointed to a side street and promised: "Laundry open," a welcome sight to people who can't yet clean their clothes at home.
But for many along this ravaged coastline, life is far from normal and won't be for months. Thousands are homeless, many in shelters, and some people are still unable to contact family members affected by the hurricane.
Officials in Hancock County, just west of here, said Friday that 52 people were unaccounted for, and authorities in other counties refused to guess how many others were missing. State officials say 211 people are known to have died so far.
At the airport in Gulfport, a temporary morgue tried to match bodies with reports of missing persons. "We're trying to do what it takes to help the families reach closure," said Dr. Richard Weems, an expert in forensic dentistry.
And for miles, trees, cars and boats remained in places they should not be — still cluttering side streets or piercing the walls of homes. Electric utilities reported about 162,000 homes and businesses were without power Friday, but thousands of those are too damaged to receive it when power lines are repaired.
While some people returned to work, thousands of others did not have jobs to go back to.
"Money's a major concern right now," said Anthony Hernandez, who had just started a job at the Treasure Bay Casino (search) in Biloxi this summer. "This blew the whole thing out of the water."
Many shortages remained, but ice and water were easy to come by without long lines, along with other luxuries such as cold beer.
A sign at Buddy's Liquor store said it would be open, and a short line had formed outside.
"This is our favorite store," said Mike Yarbrough, a charter fishing boat captain until the hurricane, as he waited for the owner to arrive to open the store. "I ain't leaving until he gets here."
Yarbrough said a shot of liquor or a cold beer would go a long way to restoring some creature comforts. But he lost his boat and his home and said a drink would not return life to the way it was before the storm.
"That ain't gonna happen any time soon," Yarbrough said.