Gulf Coast’s marine industry assessing damage

NEW ORLEANS – As Katrina moves north today, weakening from a tropical storm to a tropical depression, marine businesses along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts are beginning to assess the hurricane’s damage. There are several areas, however, for which it will be days before residents are allowed to return.

Hurricane Katrina, a Category 4 storm, made its first landfall yesterday in Buras, La, with top winds of 140 mph and storm surge of 16 to 22 feet. Though New Orleans was hit hard by massive flooding and winds estimated at 100 mph, reports it was not “the worst case scenario” for the city. The eyewall of the hurricane remained east, thus this part of Louisiana and the Mississippi Coast received the brunt of the hurricane’s force. News reports this morning suggested “up to 80” fatalities have occurred as a result of the hurricane.

In Gulfport, Miss., a sailboat was tossed eight or nine blocks from the downtown marina, and buildings and homes near the shore were battered by loose shipping containers and cut lumber, according to one news report.

Pleasure boats were reported to be stacked on top of one another at the municipal marina and yacht harbor in New Orleans, while the Southern Yacht Club on nearby Lake Pontchartrain had reportedly caught fire during the hurricane for undetermined reasons. As marina owners and operators return to their businesses in the coming days, more damage reports will likely become available.

In the meantime, from the Carolinas to parts of the Northeast, strong winds, heavy rainfall and isolated tornadoes are predicted over the next day or two.

South Florida, which was hit Friday by Hurricane Katrina, then only a Category 1 storm, is cleaning up from the minor damages sustained. It appears none of the many marinas in Broward or Miami-Dade counties sustained any significant damage.

Boaters weren’t necessarily as lucky. During the storm, sailboats were washed up on the beach at Key Biscayne, while other smashed into boats docked at a marina. Ten boats were pulled from their moorings at the Coconut Grove marina and blown onto the rocks. And at Dinner Key Marina, two liveaboard boaters trying to ride out the storm perished.

The marine industry at large has another impact from the hurricane to consider as well. The effects of the hurricane have driven up wholesale gas prices, which may cause a spike in prices at the pump as high as $3.00, some analysts have suggested. Though many in the industry have suggested there has been little change in boaters’ behavior so far this season, as high prices continue to climb, the chance of an impact is greater.

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