Prophetic? Forrest Gump's
Town Ravaged By Katrina
"You call this a storm?"   - Lt. Dan, Forrest Gump (1994)

By Douglas Herman

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 before.
 "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 cleaned up."
Just like in the movie. Just as ficitonal fisherman, Forrest Gump had done
I asked Bosarge why that was. Why would a hurricane help shrimp fishing?
"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 replaced it
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 



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