GULFPORT, Miss. – The boating industry along the Gulf Coast has “years of recovery” ahead, according to Sea Tow President Capt. Keith Cummings, who has been on the ground surveying the damage from Hurricane Katrina.
In fact, after conducting an aerial survey from Mobile, Ala., to New Orleans, La., he estimated that about 75 percent of the area’s marina industry is “non-existent.”
Last year’s Hurricane Ivan delivered “this kind of devastation” over about 30 miles, while Hurricane Katrina’s path has covered 150 miles or more of coastline, he estimated in an interview with Boating Industry yesterday morning.
“That level of devastation over a mind-boggling distance – it was hard to believe,” he said. “After a while, we stopped taking pictures. You couldn’t tell the communities apart. It’s similar to what you’ve seen after other storms, but there is so much of it.”
Recovering the boats
Sea Tow is working on behalf of boat owners, marina operators and insurance companies to recover recreational vessels in the affected area. It currently has eight to 10 Disaster Recovery Teams on site for a total of about 30 people, and it’s planning to double that number over the next week and a half.
The towing firm will be operating out of a Central Command site in Gulfport, with operational arms in Mobile and Slidell. At the Gulfport location, Sea Tow is using a 30-acre site where it will bring the boats as they are recovered. The huge makeshift boatyard will have its own security system, and technicians in place to “save what is savable.”
Cummings said he expects the bulk of this effort to last three or four months, after which it will continue on a smaller scale. The area’s boating industry has a much longer recovery ahead, however.
“The impact on the marine industry is going to be profound here,” Cummins said. “It’s going to be a long haul for a lot of people.”
Despite damage, local franchisees working
Sea Tow knows first-hand about devastation. It has five franchisees in the area hit by Hurricane Katrina, three of which have lost vessels.
Its New Orleans franchisee lost his home in the hurricane, and other franchisees have sustained damage to their personal properties. But despite these losses, all five have been up and running, according to Cummings.
“They have double the work,” he explained. “Taking care of their personal property plus helping with the recovery effort.”
Sea Tow has over 3,000 members in the region devastated by the hurricane. Cummings hopes the company’s efforts will help boat owners “get their money quickly.” Whether they will use it to get back into boating or to “get their lives back” remains to be seen, he adds.
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