Katrina's Wake: Devastation of Hurricane Touches Life on Vineyard

By James Kinsella
Gazette Senior Writer

Devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina may delay the delivery of the new Steamship Authority ferry Island Home for six months or more.

But the likely postponement of the new $30.5 million ferry for the Vineyard is just one of the ripples reaching the Vineyard in the aftermath of the hurricane, which authorities now say may have left thousands dead in New Orleans and beyond.

Already the Edgartown School is slated to get at least two new students, summer visitors whose home in New Orleans has been flooded. Another family with three daughters aged one through five was heading for the Vineyard yesterday afternoon. A professor with a summer home in West Tisbury anticipates her job at Tulane University in New Orleans will not resume until the start of the new year.

And an Oak Bluffs restaurateur with strong New Orleans ties wants to organize a benefit to help the stricken people of the city.

Meanwhile, a bit more information surfaced yesterday about the new ferry under construction for the Steamship Authority at V.T. Halter Marine in Pascagoula, Miss. The Mississippi community, near the gulf coast, was among the towns hit hard by Katrina.

Steamship Authority general manager Wayne Lamson said a boat line employee who has been helping oversee construction on the ferry was able yesterday to return to Pascagoula from Pensacola, Fla., where he had gone early in the week to escape the hurricane.

Mr. Lamson said the employee was not able to gain entrance to the two V.T. Halter yards in the Pascagoula area where components of the ferry have been under construction. But Mr. Lamson said visual inspection appeared to reveal that the hull sections, pilot houses, engines and generators survived the storm intact.

The generators and engines, which were stored a short distance above the ground in the open air, were submerged under water during the height of the storm.

The Halter shipyard had also recently launched a vessel for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Henry B. Bigelow. Mr. Lamson said reports received yesterday said the NOAA vessel, still at Halter, had remained afloat and appeared to have weathered the hurricane.

Mr. Lamson said the SSA has spent about $10 million so far on the Island Home. He said the shipyard is insured and is responsible for covering any damage to the vessel under construction, including its generators and engines.

A Halter sales representative is due to meet with boat line and NOAA officials today in Woods Hole to discuss the impact of Katrina on the scheduled delivery of the two boats, Mr. Lamson said.

The ferry was originally scheduled for delivery next June, but yesterday Mr. Lamson said he would now expect a setback of six months or more.

"I expect we will be running the Islander next summer," Mr. Lamson said, referring to the 51-year-old ferry that has been a workhorse on the Vineyard run.

Now being called the deadliest natural disaster since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, Hurricane Katrina has left in its wake a scene of horror and devastation in New Orleans, where the residents of an entire city have been turned into refugees.

Mr. Lamson said yesterday that his concerns about the state of the new ferry under construction are low on the priority list.

"Right now I am more concerned about the people down there," the soft-spoken boat line general manager said.

Katrina has also touched the Vineyard.

In Edgartown, two grandsons of Boatner and Wendy Reily will enroll in the Edgartown School until they can return to their home in New Orleans.

Wendy Reily said Jack Reily, 13, and Hugh Reily, 10, had been in school in New Orleans in August before the hurricane arrived Monday. They are the sons of Wendy and Boatner's son, Bo Reily, and their daughter-in-law, Caroline Reily.

"They got the last plane out Sunday morning," Wendy Reily said.

Bonnie Conway of Vineyard Haven said her husband, William Conway, had remained during the hurricane in New Orleans, where he works in long-span bridge design. He inspected at least one bridge in the aftermath of the hurricane.

Mr. Conway was due back yesterday. Meanwhile, their daughter, her husband, and the couple's three daughters were on route to the Vineyard after initially driving out of the city to Houston, Tex.

Ellen Weiss, a West Tisbury summer resident who works as an architectural history professor at Tulane University, had been scheduled to fly back to New Orleans Monday in preparation of the fall semester. When she heard the forecasts, she thought better of it and canceled her flight.

Ms. Weiss said she believes her home and the rest of the area where she lives, Uptown, has mostly escaped damage from the hurricane and the subsequent flooding.

But she anticipates that school might not resume at Tulane until the start of the new year. Ms. Weiss said yesterday that she feels like one of the lucky ones.

A similar note was struck by Christina Dolan, the sister of Oak Bluffs resident Elizabeth Durkee and a teacher, who fled her home in New Orleans for a friend's home in Houston.

Ms. Dolan, who was forced to drop her two cats off with a trustworthy soul en route to Houston, described her concerns in e-mails to her sister in Oak Bluffs.

"I'm merely a lucky idiot who'll be inconvenienced for a few months," she wrote. "I was able to drive away, and I have friends and family to turn to for help; my job and home will be there when this is over.

"But there are a hell of a lot of people in New Orleans who are extremely poor," she continued. "Those are the people trapped in the Superdome, whose ninth-ward houses were destroyed first, and who worked for hourly wages that may or may not be there for them later. They'll be living in gymnasiums and churches for months."

Paul and Kathy Lola Domitrovich were inspired by New Orleans cuisine when they opened Lola's, in Oak Bluffs, 12 years ago. Over the years, the Domitroviches have become close to chefs and other friends in New Orleans, which they visit in the off-season.

Ms. Domitrovich said she wants to stage a benefit at Lola's to raise money for the people of the city while the disaster is fresh in everyone's minds. She also said the Red Cross should relent on its training requirements and allow less-trained volunteers to help with the city's misery.

The Vineyard chapter of the Red Cross will conduct a special training session for volunteers tomorrow.

"With an upsurge in calls from many Vineyarders who want to assist the Red Cross, we are offering training this weekend to anyone who can commit to a two-week deployment and who can meet the criteria of our volunteer recruitment system," said chapter director Deborah Medders.

In her email to her sister, Ms. Dolan issued her own plea for help for the people stranded with no place to go.

"If you have the means, please think of them and try to help if you can," she wrote. "Forget the people who are looting, there are people who desperately need help."