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Katrina: The Recovery

By Bobby Cleveland

bcleveland@clarionledger.com

Capt. Earl’s Whipasnpa a life-saver.

Capt. Robert Earl McDaniel, or Capt. Earl as he’s known by his friends, has one thing left at his D’iberville home. His 25 foot-charter boat, the Whipasnapa, in on the ground.

“I guess it’s OK; I can’t see any big holes in it or anything,” Capt. Earl said. “I think she’ll still float.”

As sad a sight as the Whipasnapa is – sitting in a yard surrounded by the roofs of six houses, in front of a bare slab where the charter captain’s home used to sit against the north shore of the Biloxi Bay, Capt. Earl has never been more proud. The boat is a life saver, in more ways than one.

“The ol’ Whipasnapa, you know what she did, she saved three lives during Hurricane Katrina.” he said, struggling to talk about his boat without breaking down. “She carried three of my neighbors through the worst of it.”

“The last thing I did before I left down there was to unhook her from the trailer, and tie her to a pine tree so she’d float if the water got high. Well, it got high, 20 feet or more. My old neighbor, he decided to ride it out and since he spends a lot of time in his truck, he was in it when the water got up, he decided he’d be better off in his house so he waded in.”

McDaniel said the neighbor got inside only to have the house start caving in on top of him. “He said he barely made it out, liked up and saw the boat,” Capt. Earl said. “He told me, “Earl, I ain’t never been as happy to see the ol’Whipasnapa as I was that morning.’ He got in the boat. “Then a little while later, two Vietnamese joined him. They all survived.”

Plans to fish again.

So did the McDaniels, who are now living in his native Grenada, where they rode out the storm 270 miles north of D’iberville. “We’re making it,” Capt. Earl said. “My mom still lives here. My grandmother just moved out of her house and into a nursing home and her house was vacant with all the furniture, so we were lucky. We lost everything but the clothes we had with us.”

“The kids are in school here. I keep going back and forth to the Coast to meet with FEMA, the (Small Business Administration) an insurance. I hope I can get a FEMA trailer and move back, maybe in November.”

McDaniel knows he can find work back on the Coast: “I build housed, too, and there’s going to be a lot of rebuilding.”

As much as he has to concentrate on recovery, Capt. Earl can’t help but think about fishing and the Whipasnapa, which brings us to the boat’s other life-saving role. “I do know that I’d have never gotten through this had it not been for friends I’ve made over the years on the Whipasnapa,” Capt. Earl said. “My customers saved us. They sent us money. People who had trips booked but hadn’t taken them, they paid me anyway. Can you believe that? The $100 here, $500 there that they sent saved us. They must have liked their experiences on the Whipasnapa.”

“Do I want to fish again? Darn right. On that boat, and with all those people!”