What is this?

Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

Map of Southeaster United States

This project is evolving. Our daily dispatches coverage has been retired. Click here to see what happened in the area between mid October and January 1, 2006.

Background on the towns and this project is available under the about tab above.

Click here for bios of the reporters and media producers who have worked on the series.

How you can help

RSS 

Get the latest stories, journal entries and images via RSS subscription.

BAYOU CADDY, Miss. – The irony of what is happening in the post-Katrina fishing industry along the Gulf Coast is as twisted as the steel in the ruins of the marina here.

She took it all, the killer hurricane did, boats and docks and gear, cars and trucks and homes. Rough and ready men and women who pulled their living from the sea lost everything to it. But Katrina’s awful churning of the fishing grounds appears to have returned a bounty of seafood to which government inspectors have given a clean bill of health.

Be that as it may, say commercial and charter fishermen from Galveston to Pensacola and beyond, it won’t do most of them a bit of good unless and until they get massive government assistance to find, repair and replace boats, clean out waterways and harbors and restore docks, fuel pumps, ice houses and processing facilities.

The federal government has declared a “resource disaster” for the gulf fishery and says the industry, which harvests an estimated $700 million a year in finfish, shrimp, oysters and crabs, took a billion-dollar-plus hit, but so far has offered no direct aid.

“I feel like the effort is really klutzy,” says crabber Bob Metz, 63. “I’ve been dealing with the SBA for over a hundred days and FEMA too. … I think the scale of this disaster has taken everybody by surprise and the government just wasn’t prepared.”

Metz is one of a handful of fishermen scrambling to get back in business along the canals and estuaries of Bayou Caddy, once home to a thriving marina with a huge dry boat storage facility, ice house and fuel station. Now, only a mushroom-shaped water tower is left standing to guard a forlorn debris field of broken boats, gangways, tires, crab traps and rats’ nests of rope and netting. The winter wind blows cold through the marshes at the mouth of the bayou, across three-ton tank supports tumbled to the ground like dominoes, and plays a lonely clinking of line and tackle against boom and mast.

Metz, who has been catching, retailing and wholesaling crabs for more than 20 years from a residential and business compound at water’s edge, lost his three-bedroom home, a large office, cold-storage units and three boats to Katrina. Slowly, he is trying to put his business back together, borrowing $50,000 to replace his boats and equipment and selling crabs from a refrigerated truck parked next to his FEMA trailer on his storm-scoured lot.

Excellent crab catch
Shortly after the storm, the crabbing couldn’t have been better, Metz says. Katrina stirred the pot in some way that brought “way more crabs than we’re used to catching.” A hundred traps yielded 600 to 700 pounds of the blue Mississippi soft-shells, whose Latin name Callinectes sapidus means “savory, beautiful swimmer.” While his retail business is weak because travel trailers and other temporary living quarters have little room for storing crabs, the wholesale demand has been good and Metz expects the price to rise to $2 a pound as the year progresses.

Next door to Metz, oysterman Randy Tomasich, 37, also lost his home, but he saved his 48-foot boat by sailing it upstream. Still, it was pushed 30 feet ashore by Katrina’s surge. Since the storm, Tomasich hasn’t felt much like working his oyster dredges because he has been faring well in the reconstruction business, using the grab bag of welding, carpentry and other skills that he acquired in 25 years as a fisherman.

Still, it’s just a matter of time before Tomasich returns to the water. Mississippi has closed its oyster grounds to let them rebuild after Katrina, but some oystermen are working Louisiana waters, where they are pulling 150 sacks a day. Even in Mississippi, which most commercial oystermen eschew because of its 15-sack daily limit, “as far as I’m concerned, the oysters are good now,” Tomasich says. “I don’t know why they’re not letting us get them.”

On the bayou’s main arm, Trinh Huynh and Hong Tran have a lot of nets to mend aboard their 65-foot shrimp trawler, the Dustin Randy. Since the storm, they have been snagging everything from trees to cars along with the shrimp. More than 25 years after coming to the United States from their native Vietnam, the couple had built a business that was providing them with a nice house in Waveland and college tuition for two of their four children. “One day, we all gone,” Hong says, her fingers flying among the green netting. “One day, everything gone.”

Trinh rode out Katrina aboard his steel vessel, winding up well inland and 400 feet away from the bayou, an experience to which he says “not again.” He is thankful for help from the Coast Guard in getting the Dustin Randy back in the water, but puzzled as to why more than $13,000 worth of fuel had to be removed from it and not replaced.

While post-Katrina shrimping was good in places along the coast, Trinh and Hong’s business is now tremendously complicated by having to travel 10 hours for fuel and ice. They are making some money selling their catch dockside, but their entire customer count on one recent afternoon was two visiting police officers.

'I don't know'
Living in a FEMA trailer, the family doesn’t plan to give up, but asked about his hopes for the future of his own business and his whole industry, Trinh draws deeply on his Marlboro and says simply, “I don’t know.”

Oysterman Roger Ladner stands in front of My Ladies, one of his two fishing vessels left stranded in the trees after Hurricane Katrina's flood waters receded. Click 'play' to hear Ladner's son, Michael Beech, talk about their predicament. (John Brecher / MSNBC.com)


Oystermen Michael Beech and his dad Roger Ladner can only be envious of fishermen who have gotten back in the water. Their 43-foot My Ladies and 58-foot Catherine were left high and dry up the Jourdan River in Kiln, where they were taken in a bid to dodge Katrina. Now hundreds of yards from the water and on private property, the boats are not a high priority as the Coast Guard works to clear the area’s waterways.

“They said it could be a while before the put them back in the water or they could never put them back in the water,” Beech says, surveying the vessels, which wound up in a small pecan grove amid a pile of pine logs from a nearby sawmill.

Although Beech has years of experience working for others, the men had only recently gotten into the fishing business for themselves after Ladner cashed in his 401(k) to buy the boats. They were doing well until Katrina hit. “I’d be in Louisiana working right now, making 300 sacks every two days,” Beech says, a haul that would bring $6,000.

The men are investigating private options to get their boats running again, expecting to pay $3,000 or more. “Has anyone told you what B-O-A-T means?” asks Ladner. “Break out another thou.”

The charter fishing industry also suffered mightily. Businessmen who didn’t lose their boats lost their visitor base and the infrastructure that supported their operations, says Capt. John Lewis, who was taking a hiatus from running his “Speck” Tacular charter boat out of Bay St. Louis when Katrina hit.

Lots of 'specks'
But Lewis says the post-Katrina fishing for the speckled trout that are the namesake of his boat and the “No. 1 game fish along the Gulf Coast” is so good that he is thinking about returning to the business. On recent outings, the “specks,” a saltwater version of rainbow trout “were plentiful and they were hungry,” Lewis said.

An industry group, the National Association of Charter Boat Operators, says about half the charter vessels in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana were either lost or severely damaged by the storm. By mid-December, charter boat skippers had lost nearly 18,000 trips, a direct loss of nearly $25 million, a NACO spokesman told a congressional panel last month.

At that same hearing, before the House Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries and Oceans, a host of speakers detailed the damage to both the commercial and charter industries and implored Congress to help.

“The industry is suffering as much as any industry I’ve seen,” said William Hogarth, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, who put the cost of rebuilding at $1.2 billion.

But a few days later, when Congress approved another $29 billion in hurricane relief funds for the gulf region, there was nothing in the bill for fishermen.


MAIN PAGE NEXT POST A time of change for Rising from Ruin

Email this EMAIL THIS

128 COMMENTS

I AM IN THE RESTURANT BUSINESS IN LOUISIANA, AND WE HAD A HARD TIME FOR A WHILE, BUT THE HARD WORKING FISHERMEN ARE BACK FURNISHING OUR NEEDS. WE, LIKE OUR FORE FATHERS, DON'T SIT AROUND AND WAIT FOR THE GOVERNMENT WHEN WE CAN DO FOR OURSELVES. THERE ARE LOTS OF JOBS ON THE COAST, COME JOIN US.
KRD, DERIDDER, LA

Even if, and I'm not saying it isn't,but even if everything possibly were being done and more money thrown at it than was needed. You would still be in this mess for the most part. It takes time to rebuild everything. Its not just boats! It Packing companies, and icing companies and docks and marine fuels. Get some understanding people, it took decades to build this infrastructure, its going to take several years to rebuild it! And quit crying for the government to do everything, what have we become a nation of Welfare recipients.

I wonder how much the president actually given of his own millions along with his staff.....

I read about the 'loan' the federal government made to Louisiana, and I wonder, was it a loan when the US sent help (money & supplies) to tsunami swamped India. Loaning money to one of the states of our own country is ridiculous when we give it outright to other countries. A shame!

Derek, I'm only blaming the Bush admin. for the things they are not doing inside our own country to help the citizens of OUR country. If I started to complain about what they've DONE, lied, cheated, stolen, what they are about to do, I would be here all month. The fishing idustry (besides casinos) just about the biggest thing there. So to expect a little "help" from our government is not too far fetched. Can a fisherman fish without a boat? Can he dock to docks that were destroyed? Can he deliver them to a warehouse that is 1/2 mile inland from where it was before Katrina? Get my drift?

God bless each and every family still suffering in their efforts to rebuild their businesses, homes and lives on the Gulf Coast.

While I agree with some points on both sides of the issue, it is indeed up to each of us as individuals to prepare for times such as these. If someone can make a thousand dollars a day from their fishing business, then they certainly should be able to put enough away to bring themselves through tough times like this. At the same time, someone who makes that kind of cash also presumably pays an enormous amount of taxes. You would think that the government that receives such bounty would be eager to get these folks back up and running.

Your nation prays for you guys. Remember, when things don't go according to the plans you had, then God's plan is being excercised. His plans turn out better than ours all the time. Sometimes it may not seem that way while you are in the process, but think about this; how many times have you said, "If that had not happened I would not have..."

My sympathy to all who were affected by this natural disaster. However, to categorize someone who earns more than a quarter million dollars a year in the fishing industry as a member of the "poor working man" class is pretty hard to swallow by those of us who actually are. Your failure to maintain insurance to protect your assets is exactly that, your failure. My tax dollars should not be used to rebuild your business or lifestyle. In other words, you pay the premiums, or you take your chances. Quit crying that that the government needs to fund the results of your poor business decision.

The fishing industry, not much could have been done to escape the wrath of Katrina. For these people help is deserved and needed. You just can't haul out every boat over 30'. Even if you could, you can't move them inland far enough to escape damamges.
On the other hand, the majority of New Orleans populace still expects the federal government to bail them out when they wouldn't listen in the first place, back in the mid 60's when Louisiana was informed as a state by the Fed's the levee system would not hold up under severe conditions. And then when told to evacuate they ignored the order. To top it off they couldn't act as an orderly society when they realized the situation.

Louisianas politicians over the years helped flood New Orleans by not demanding the state take care of it's own problem by fixing it's levee system. I sincerely hope the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tells the Govenor of Louisiana to start collecting the taxes need to do the fix and...oh by the way...we told you so.
Amazingly though, North Dakota just went through one of the worst blizzards in decades that involved the upper left quarter of the state. People stranded, no heat, no electricity, cars buried in embankments and snow ditches, one quarter of the state brought to a stand still. Funny how the people of North Dakota just pulled together and helped each other out. No government involvement, no whining about who's going to help, no temporary housing, no checks, no FEMA...nothing. They haven't been coddled over the years with expectations of handouts. They know how to make do for themselves.

The people of New Orleans got they're wake-up call.

I am sorry for having to post this, but we all have to realize that New Orleans is below the flood plain. They built the city with wall to hold back the floods. Hurricanes are not new to this area. Why hasn't the city and state governments done something before now. The whole coastal region has been through this before! Lets stop blaming Washington DC and the current administration. Lets blame years and years of neglect from the territories that were hit and poor planning for rebuilding in case they were hit again. I pray for the citizens of these area's and know that this is what the American Dream is all about, starting with nothing and building your future. As long as these people survived, they have the greatest thing of all, their lives. If they don't want to rebuild there and risk losing it all again with the next bad hurricane, there are plenty of other communities across this great land that would gladly welcome them with open arms.

It truely saddens my heart to see how slow our goverment worked at getting help to the people. We nead to pull together,next time it could be you or me.
Gods speed to those in need. kay wilkerson kalispell mt.

Derek Collins on the typical liberal getting help from the government in a free market society, is not the problem. If in a free market society you should be ready for the hard times, why did we have to borrow 200 BILLION DOLLARS FROM CHINA TO GO TO WAR IN IRAQ, and why did HALLIBURTON PICK UP BILLIONS OF DOLLARS BY THE SUITCASE FULL (OF OUR MONEY) IN IRAQ BECAUSE THERE WAS NO FINANCIAL SYSTEM IN PLACE AND EVERYONE GOT PAID WITH A SUITCASE FULL OF MONEY! ALSO, PAUL SMITH ON INSURANCE, HOW COME OUR GOVERNMENT, WITH OUR TAX MONEY BAIL OUT THE INSURANCE COMPANIES BECAUSE OF 9/11 LOSSES, ALSO, CHECK OUT THE MONIES ,TAX MONIES, POURED INTO FLORIDA OVER THE LAST FIVE YEARS DO TO HURRICANES. LETS FACE IT FOLKS, SINCE CLINTON LEFT OFFICE THIS COUNTRY HAS GONE DOWN THE PORCELINE CHUTE. KING GEORGE THINKS HE AND HIS BASE SHOULD NOT BE CONTRIBUTING TO THE INFRASTRUCTURE OF THIS COUNTRY. WELL I SAY IF YOU TAKE FROM THE SYSTEM BE PREPARED TO GIVE SOMETHING BACK.

If the President thinks we can rebuild a country we bombed, we should be able to take care of our own. One veteran of 14 wars who saw the devastation from Katrina have said he'd never seen anything like it, and how can you call helping your neighbor "communism?" I don't think there's any danger in the US becoming a communist state. This is what is known as a "smokescreen," a way of diverting attention from the real issue. If we are such a Christian nation that all the right-wing fundamentalists, inc. GWB himself, purport us to be, then why are we enmired in the swirl of such selfishness as the Delay/Abramoff scandal, and shouldn't we be more charitable in general? Such hypocrisy is unbelievable.

i am sorry for thier plight, i drive truck coast to coast, govt is everywhere,everystate has a excuse. people will get to basics, the less govt the better, depending on family and friends,i hope??

Bill DuBois.....i'm hungry too ..bet i could eat 3 dozen {half shell }....if i could only get dem...hot sause...horseradish....and crackers...shoot now i'm sad!!!....fish people we want the seafood....best of luck!!!

It's time to remember who your local elected officials are and when they come up for reelection, they should replace him with a local fisherman. I say those of us who have worked in the marine business head down there and get them back on there feet, and bill FEMA

Mr Paul Smith, yes if we had a fire or a tornado, we also would have been able to rebuild. We have homeowners and windstorm insurance. As far as the flood, we asked about buying it, but our insurance agent stated it wasnt required, and that he wouldnt be able to sleep at night if we bought it. It would have only costed around $300 a year for it, and we would have spent it. Everyone believed and used Camille as a measure, that nothing could be as bad as she was. So, Mr Smith, what would you do, if whole entire towns were wiped out. My FEMA adjuster finally came last month, and my windstorm adjuster came a few days ago. So, where do you think all these homeless people should be staying, waiting for assistance? Unfortunately we still do have people living in tents, and greatfully others are staying with strangers, that have some sort of shelter. If our government can spend money on rebuilding other countries, why not rebuild ours, your neighbors.

What Valdez AK is doing by sending the equipment to help lift the boats is a excellent example of Americans helping Americans! We need more help of each other and not so much sitting around waiting for some government offical to swoop down and hand out money.

If we can't blame the Bush admin then who can we blame? The democrats, Better Homes & Gardens, Wal-Mart, or the media for its reports? NO... put the blame where it belongs.

Mike J, Phoenix.....i don't know who to blame...it seems dem. or rep. it's all the same s***!!!...but idon't think we can blame it on Wal-mart....LOL

A lot of fair and reasonable people have taken the time to reply. Good news. Now, what if...
Those who wrote and spoke so well joined together to form a "coalition" (for lack of a better word) to write councilpeople, congresspeople, mayors, governors, etc. to motivate them to action...
Those who had the talents to get boats back in the water faster got boats in the water...
Those who had the talents to reap the harvest of Mother Ocean, respectfully reap her harvest...
Those who process and ship and those of us who consume at home and in restaurants...
ALL joined together to make this happen for ALL of us. Now that's the Good Ol' USA! God Bless us all.

Best Wishes From the State of Maine. Fishing is a great source of our income. I only hope we never get hit like you folks did. I would hope other fishing industries could help with sending equipmment like the travel lift. If the government had barges in the mothball fleet they could donate them to set up a dock system, and processing base. The government has a wide inventory of water craft in the mothball fleet that could be pressed into service, wich the people of the gulf coast already paid for. mmmm, sounds like insurance paid in advance. I think if you were only to look you could find many resources just sitting unused tied up somewhere.

Lets keep a prespective on how federal goverment aid is being doled out. Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, which took a 1 billion dollar (fully insured) loss to their Pascagoula shipyard, received 1.7 billion dollars in the aid package. The casinos, which took hundreds of millions in loss, collectively received about 1 billion dollars - but the casino operators requested none (to their credit).

I personally have not received a penny in any government aid - I did get a "blue roof" (tarp) from the Army Corp of Engineers, but it leaked. I do blame the bush administration, and the Republican Party, for mismanaging initial aid and now directing public funds to the people and organizations who need it least.

We have lived in southwest La. 30 years having come from original home in Texas to the oil refineries here. Our daughters grew up and married here and all of our grandchildren born here so I guess this is home now. Have had many, many observations on the politics, social behaviors and life styles of 'these peope' down here over the years and not all of them were positive observations! Having now lived through, and suffering damage to all 3 of our homes, we now feel a greater kinship to the land and the people. They will rebuild right where they were along the absoulute edge of the coastline if allowed to. They belong to their land just like a midwest farmer who gets blown away by tornados or upper southwest snow.
Good or bad? who's to say. God loves us all and despite our differences in political ideologies we as a nation are a good and kind people. Pray for those down here suffering so badly those of you in the outlands, get active politically and pressure those in power us peoples down here, and do all we can to help each other while we take personal responsibility for helping ourselves. GWB didn't break it but he and his can help in better ways to fix it. Faith based operations and communities helping each other is what we have seen the most results from. God loves us all.

What kind of equipment is needed to put these boats back in the water? Cranes? Semi trucks?

Is there not a way for us to ask people we know to go help these folks get there boats back in the water.
I would be there in a heart beat if I had the equipment and I would do it for free.

I am going to start today looking into crane/heavy equipment companies and trucking companies to see what kind of efforts I can help pull together to help these folks get there boats back in the water.

And just think if they were in the water they could be bringing in there own income and not having to wait on FEMA.

Hang in there ya'll.
there are still some of out here that care and want to help. I don't have the equipment but I have courage on my side and I am NOT afraid to start asking questions and looking into an alternate path of help to get you ALL BACK ON THE WATER!
Can anyone else do the same?

To blame someone is not the answer to your questions that many of you seem to have. What about the insurance company did you call them about your claim. If you had a insurance ploicy then things should work out. But if you failed then who is to blame but your self. Remember if you plan then how can you fail.

Comments for this post have been closed.

TRACKBACKS

Trackbacks are links to weblogs that reference this post. Like comments, trackbacks do no appear until approved by us. The trackback URL for this post is: http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451b0aa69e200d834a4603069e2

More Rising from Ruin

Story tips?