|Fishermen struggle to rebuild boats, lives after Katrina|
Neang Pum stands in front of her fishing boat damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
A UMNS photo by John Gordon.
By John Gordon*
Nov. 15, 2006 | EMPIRE, La. (UMNS)
Residents of this South Louisiana parish left Vietnam and Cambodia to start new lives in the U.S.
They were working hard and making a good living as commercial fishermen when Hurricane Katrina damaged their homes and boats.
More than a year after the storm, the refugees are still working to
rebuild their boats and their lives with the help of Boat People SOS, a
social service organization partially funded by the United Methodist
Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
Case worker Phu Nguyen (left) and Margaret
Nguyen, operations manager for Boat People SOS in Gretna, LA, review
case files of Vietnamese-Americans seeking
assistance after Hurricane Katrina.
A UMNS photo by John Gordon.
The boats and homes of about 200 commercial fishermen in Plaquemines Parish were directly in Katrina's path.
"I have to repair my boat as soon as possible so that I can make
money to recover my life," said Neang Pum, a shrimper who came to the
United States from Cambodia in 1981.
The 64-year old received financial assistance from the Return to the
Sea program operated by Boat People SOS, but she is still working to
make her boat seaworthy. Pum said it may be weeks or months before her
boat is repaired.
In the past, she has earned thousands of dollars in a single fishing
trip-money she said she desperately needs to build a new house. "Going
to the sea, using our boat, we can make good money," she said. "And as
soon as we have good money, we can buy a house, easily."
Pum now lives in a FEMA trailer, but she did not qualify for a Small
Business Administration loan or other conventional federal aid to repair
Plenty of shrimp
Ironically, after boats were destroyed, shrimp became abundant in the
Gulf of Mexico. The high tides of Katrina swept shrimp into areas of
the Gulf where they were not previously found.
"They found themselves in habitats that were near optimal in terms of
growth and survival. We had huge numbers of shrimp available to
harvest," said Martin Bourgeois of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife
and Fisheries in Baton Rouge.
"The problem was you had certain communities that were devastated. It was a total collapse of the infrastructure," he said.
Repair work continues on fishing boats in
south Louisiana damaged by Hurricane Katrina more than a year
ago. A UMNS photo by John Gordon.
Some people will never return to the fishing business, Bourgeois
said. "There are a number of boats that are up on a hill, with no
government program in place to be able to return boats back to water."
Refugees flee Southeast Asia
The refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia came to the United States in
search of freedom and a better education for their children, said
Margaret Nguyen, operations manager at the Boat People SOS office in
Nguyen did not know whether the children of the refugees would continue in the commercial shrimp business.
The life of a fisherman is difficult. They will often spend several
days on the water, working day and night to bring in their catch.
"It's very, very hard work," said Tran Yen, a friend who is helping
Pum repair her boat. "But I don't know of many jobs like shrimping."
In some years, as much as 45 percent of the shrimp harvested in the
Gulf of Mexico comes from Louisiana. The shrimp is served on dinner
tables from the southern states to Washington, D.C.
Funds for Katrina victims
Boat People SOS is one of a consortium with nine other organizations,
called Katrina Aid Today, headed by the United Methodist Committee on
Relief. The organization received a $66 million grant through the
Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Homeland Security.
The grant consists of international donations that were received after
The goal of Katrina Aid Today is to help 100,000 storm victims rebuild their lives.
* Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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