BILOXI — Antebellum mansions and bungalows once rimmed the beachfront boulevard edging the Gulf in Biloxi. Window shutters, from floor to ceiling, swung open to wide, sweeping front lawns shaded by leafy oaks and fragrant magnolias.

That’s what Troy Arguellea chose to remember Friday as he lingered in the debris-strewn yard of his century-old four-bedroom home.

“Aww, it was gorgeous,” he said, his arms sweeping skyward. Now, the tree leaves, soaked by salt water, look winter-dead, the lawn a stained, brown shag carpet.

Katrina pummeled this seaside town, churning grand, old homes, pricey condos and monolith casinos into mountains of timber and rubble, but Arguella’s home seemed almost intact — except for the wave of water that washed through,

“We were expecting the worst and hoping for the best,” said Arguellea, 44, a landscape contractor.

Arguella joined a few refugees who sat around a folding table set up under a plastic canopy next door. On the table among the soda cans was a rifle, just in case. In the old cemetery nearby, grave robbers have been picking clean unearthed skeletons.

Lizzy Lynn, 27, who was staying next door to Arguella, was busy rinsing out clothes she salvaged from her own home in The Point neighborhood. She’d found an open pipe spurting water across the boulevard.

As she wrung out shirts, she flung them over an open car door.

“Everything is full of mud and salt,” she said.

Liz Staib flew from Southern California, desperate to reach her mother’s beachfront home in Biloxi.

“All I could concentrate on was finding her,” said Staib, 49.

Her mother, 78-year-old Norma Swetman Robb, was at a friend’s, sleeping on a water-soaked coach. The widow of a dental surgeon and a descendant of founders of a Mississippi bank, Robb lived for six years in a home overlooking the gulf.

The muscle of the storm ripped carpet off the foundation of her home and buried her two Cadillacs under rubble.

“I consider myself blessed,” she said as she stooped to sift through broken china and other bits. “I’m alive.”

Helped in her search for valuables by her daughter, son-in-law and grandson, Robb amassed a small cluster by late Friday: an antique perfume bottle, figurines, bits of china, a bottle of Chivas Regal.

Staib said she is slowly warming her mother to the idea of moving to California with her. Finds in the debris — like the perfume bottle — will help Robb remain connected to her past, Staib said.

“That’s what I kept thinking, just to find a few pieces like that,” she said. “You can’t ask anymore than that.”

David Vickers rode out the storm with his family in their six-year-old condominium, shielded by aluminum hurricane shutters. He used another kind of protection to save his truck’s gasoline and to scare away squatters.

“I came home and these guys were siphoning gas from my truck,” said Vickers, 44, a restaurant owner. “I cussed them like the dogs they were and then I pulled out my pistol-and I cocked it.”

When Katrina hit, a wall of sea water gushed into the lower floors of his condo. The second-floor living room and dining room with Italianate furniture looked unscathed, which made them an attractive find for squatters and looters, he said.

On Friday, Vickers and his family scurried up and down the stairs, carrying out what they could before nightfall.

Vickers said he can’t let his family stay in the house because he’s afraid of who will come up the steps.

Terry Schneider, general manager of the gigantic gambling resort Casino Magic, usually wears a suit and tie to work.

He strapped a tool belt around his shorts Friday in a corner of the casino’s parking lot. There, he and other employees set up a chow line for the 1,000 employees, and anyone else in Biloxi who needed food.

Schneider made a few repairs to the casino’s usually beckoning sign. His own home lost the roof. He chose to help his employees and organize them into teams to help others in the community.

“What can I do there?” he said about his own damaged home.