Katrina’s boat and marina toll unknown, but will be high

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AUG. 30 - While search-and-rescue efforts are under way in the GulfCoast areas pummeled by Hurricane Katrina, it could be days or even weeks before authorities can assess damages to boats and marinas.

State and federal agencies have deployed all available boats to search for people stranded by the floods. As of Tuesday morning, the Louisiana Department of Fish and Wildlife had rescued 700 people, according to reports.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary, which set up a command center in New Alexandria, La., planned Tuesday to deploy up to 30 people and about a dozen boats, planes and radio units. The units will assist in search-and-rescue, as well as locating aids to navigation and backfillingCoast Guard duties to allow active duty and reserve personnel to perform other missions.

The Environmental Protection Agency was planning to recruit boats and operators to assist in search-and-rescue efforts, as well.

Katrina made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane early Monday morning, pounding Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama with destructive winds and driving rain. Storm surges in some areas exceeded 18 feet, causing massive flooding. There have been reports of flooded marinas and drifting boats, but efforts this week are focused on finding survivors and restoring order.

“We only have anecdotal information,” says Scott Croft, spokesman for BoatU.S., the consumer boating association that also offers marine insurance to its members. “But if boaters didn’t take care of their boats, this one could turn out bad for them.”

In Gulfport, Miss., a coastal city about 10 miles from Biloxi, it was reported that winds more than 100 mph washed a number of sailboats onto a coastal four-lane highway. One sailboat was beached nearly 400 yards from the water.

“This is a devastating hit — we’ve got boats that have gone into buildings,” Gulfport Fire Chief Pat Sullivan says in a news report.

Tensions flared at one point in New Orleans when police, searching flooded neighborhoods for people trapped on rooftops and in attics, attempted to commandeer a private boat, the Houston Chronicle reported. As an officer tried to explain to the owner that he could legally seize the boat, the owner apparently began speaking rapidly and in an incomprehensible manner.

That’s when the officer pulled out a revolver and threatened to shoot the man, according to the report. The flustered owner explained to the officer that police could take his boat but that he wanted to go along to help search for his missing relatives. The officer reportedly put down his gun and apologized.

The Southern Yacht Club in New Orleans, one of the oldest in the country, reports on its Web site that camera footage shot from a helicopter shows the clubhouse burning. “The footage also shows widespread devastation in the MunicipalYachtHarbor and Orleans Marina,” according to the posting on the Web site.

Authorities project Katrina could be the costliest storm on record, with preliminary estimates of $26 billion in damages. That would exceed Hurricane Andrew, which in 1992 caused about $25 billion in damage. The cost to the marine industry is expected to be substantial.

JoAnn W. Goddard and Jason Fell