Gulf Coast: empty marinas, boats piled up


SEPT. 10 - Marine assistance crews working this past week in the Gulf States say the hurricane damage is widespread, and it will take months to clean up marinas and recover boats.

“I don’t know how to describe it,” says Keith Cummings, president of Sea Tow International. “Other storms have hit like that in small areas. Here it’s so widespread.”

Cummings, who arrived in Gulfport, Miss., earlier this week to assess damages and coordinate the company’s cleanup efforts, took an aerial tour of the Gulf Coast states hit by the hurricane. He noted that a large swath of nearly 100 miles was leveled. Diamondhead, an area northwest of Bay St. Louis, Miss., is gone.

“There’s not a house standing,” says Cummings, a former electrical engineer who joined Sea Tow in 2001.

Other areas are littered with debris, Cummings says. Oak Harbor Marine in Slidell, La., “appears untouched” in the inner docks, but on one side Cummings estimates there are 100 boats piled up. In Biloxi, Miss., a marina was destroyed when a casino boat broke loose and rammed into it, Cummings says.

Some marinas are empty. The boats that occupied the slips have been found in the streets miles away.

“The marinas are empty. All the boats are gone,” says Cummings. “Imagine finding a 50-foot sportfishing boat in the middle of the woods,” he adds.

Cummings says the company has deployed 20 teams from around the nation — as far away as the West Coast. He expects his company’s cleanup efforts will take three to four months.

Cummings says things are slowly returning to normal in some areas, with electricity being restored and people returning to their homes, or to the remnants of their homes. Yesterday, he and his crew ate their first hot meal in days after a Sonic restaurant opened.

— JoAnn W. Goddard