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Maine company leading effort to assist Louisiana fishing villages

PORTLAND, Maine --A marine archaeological research company in Maine is planning to use its research vessel to deliver food and supplies to Louisiana fishing villages that were leveled by Hurricane Katrina.

The 102-foot vessel Diamond will probably be accompanied by a small flotilla of shrimp-fishing boats when it leaves from Fort Myers Beach, Fla., either Thursday or Friday for the Louisiana bayou where the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico.

The aim is to deliver much-needed water, food and supplies to Empire, Venice and other communities -- or what remain of them -- that line the river between the Gulf and New Orleans.

"Those are some of the hardest-hit places, and they haven't gotten any aid to this point," Greg Brooks, a partner for Portland-based Sub Sea Research LLC, said in a phone interview from Florida.

The sliver of land through which the Mississippi River meanders southeast of New Orleans is dotted with small communities that are dependent on the commercial fishing and oil industries. It was there, in the tiny town of Buras, where the eye of Katrina made landfall at daybreak on Aug. 29.

The hurricane made more than two-thirds of Plaquemines Parish uninhabitable. Residents were allowed back to the northernmost part of the parish on Sunday, but weren't allowed to go south of Port Sulphur because the highway is underwater.

It is that area -- inaccessible by road -- that the Diamond and other boats hope to reach, said Gary Burris, a former fisherman from Naples, Fla., who has spearheaded the relief effort. Besides carrying supplies and food, the boats will also provide shelter for those in need, he said.

"There are still people in there that they haven't gotten to. That's the stuff that keeps you awake at night," Burris said.

After coming up with the idea to help those along the lowermost part of the Mississippi River, Burris contacted commercial fishing organizations and began soliciting donations.

Sub Sea Research was contacted because the Diamond is kept in Key West, Fla., and has sonar and other equipment that can help survey the river and determine where boats are sunk. The vessel can carry up to 30 tons of supplies, Brooks said.

Josh Tickell, who lives in California and heads a nonprofit organization which promotes biodiesel fuel, arranged for the delivery of 7,000 gallons of donated biodiesel from farmers in Iowa. The fuel was delivered Wednesday, and Brooks and his business partners are donating their time and the operational costs of the Diamond.

For Tickell, the hurricane hit close to home because he is originally from Louisiana and still has relatives there.

"It's basically a disaster down there," he said.

Besides lending a helping hand, Burris plans to videotape what they encounter and make a documentary of the plight of the fishing communities.

Brooks also intends to use his vessel's remote-operated camera to take underwater video to assess what the marine life is like in the Gulf of Mexico and in the river.

"We'll see what's there and what's gone," he said, "and what's alive and what's dead."


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