- The shrimp fishing town popularized by the Oscar-Winning
Movie, Forrest Gump, was mauled by Hurricane Katrina nearly four months
ago. Strangely, the movie predicted just such a storm more than a decade
- "The water came up so fast," said commercial
fisherman, Gordon Schoon. "It snapped the mooring lines of the boats
in front of me, they swung around and then snapped the lines securing my
boat. Then they caught fire."
- From the vantage of City Dock, along the boat channel
leading into town, one could see dozens of fishing boats lodged deep in
the trees, months after the storm. Stout steel boats lay hard aground,
well above the high tide level. Across the channel, a once proud boat lay
on its side. Next to it, a heavily-laden ferry, containers topped with
compact cars, squatted upright in a thicket like a bathtub toy.
- As Hurricane Katrina approached the Gulf coast, the 32
mile-wide eyewall-as wide as the English Channel--stared malevolently from
above. Even after falling from a Category 5, powerful winds radiating from
the center for 125 miles in every direction.
- But it was the storm surge coast dwellers feared most.
Literally a slow moving tsunami, the storm surge is the water a hurricane
pushes up as it approaches shore. A number of factors contribute to its
size: wind strength, falling air pressure, the size of a storm's eye, the
distance hurricane force winds extend from the center, the speed at which
the storm comes ashore and the angle at which it hits.
- Some observers estimated a record storm surge of thirty
feet hit a few miles to the west, in Biloxi, Mississippi, pushing enormous
floating casinos from their moorings. In Bayou La Batre, the surge nearly
swept the harbor clean.
- "I was tied to piers at the City Dock but the water
rose over the piers" said Gordon Schoon, "We even had lines running
to trees. I stayed aboard with the engine running full throttle, 1700 rpm."
- Schoon skippered a big steel boat called the Fisherman
XV, now in dry dock for repairs. The nearby warehouse at City Dock was
shredded halfway up, the steel siding looked like confetti.
- "Two boats in front of us caught fire," said
Lawrence Bosarge, skipper of the White Foam. "What's left of them
is over in the trees now."
- "We fought that fire with hoses, buckets, fire extinguishers
all during the storm," Gordon added. "They burned my windows
out but I pushed two boats in front of me away."
- Another fisherman, a crewman on The Four Sisters, observed.
"Might be the only way to get some of those boats out of the trees
is to cut them up right where they sit and carry them out in pieces."
- Bayou la Batre, Alabama, fictional home of Forrest Gump,
is one of the most productive commercial fishing ports in the US. A few
months before the storm hit, a group of investors planned to remake the
robust, blue collar town into a picturesque, upscale fishing village.
- The downtown area, now almost completely destroyed, would
be replaced by a flower-filled park shaded by live oaks. One street would
become a cobblestone, gaslight-shopping district. The industrial areas,
Shipyard District and City Docks District, would become "self-contained
tourist destinations with condominium resorts, restaurants, spas and marinas."
- Hurricane Katrina may have swayed the 2,300 residents
to sign onto the deal, now that much of the small city center lies in ruins,
four months after the hurricane.
- But for the working fishermen, life continues. The afternoon
I arrived, I met many crewmen and skippers working aboard their boats,
doing gear work.
- "I should have just ignored my house after the storm,"
said skipper Bosarge. "The boats that survived and went out fishing
- Just like in the movie. Just as ficitonal fisherman,
Forrest Gump had done
- I asked Bosarge why that was. Why would a hurricane help
- "Hurricanes blow the shrimp out of the marshes,
out in the bay, where they bunch up. Sometimes they're so thick you see
them skipping along the surface. Also if I'd gone fishing I wouldn't have
worried about how I was gonna rebuild."
- For the residents of Bayou La Batre, surveying the wrecked
buildings downtown, the future remained bleak. A long process
of rebuilding lay ahead. But out on the ocean, getting away from the shore,
a fisherman could sometimes see the big picture.
- "I hope to catch 500 lbs of shrimp tonight,"
one skipper called to me from the deck of his boat. At $2.60 a lb that
would pay for a bit of rebuilding.
- Sometimes nature smashes things up, sweeps away the fragile
and the strong with impunity, and leaves an emptiness where our precious
objects once stood. Sometimes Mother Nature, malicious old bitch
that she often becomes, suddenly smiles goodnaturedly while filling
up a fisherman's nets the following day. In five years time a visitor might
not recognize this Alabama town swept clean. A newer, better one may have
- Douglas Herman, longtime Kodiak Alaska commercial fisherman
and Rense reporter is touring the storm-ravaged Gulf of Mexico coast.
Next stop: New Orleans. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org