Saturday, September 24, 2005


Rita delays arrival of old warship in Evansville


Indiana News
September 23, 2005

EVANSVILLE, IND. -- The projected path of Hurricane Rita toward the Gulf Coast has disrupted plans for sailing a World War II-era warship to its new home along the Ohio River.

Officials had hoped that the LST 325 would be in place in Evansville by Oct. 1.

But Capt. Bob Jornlin and officers aboard the ship scrapped their planned Thursday departure from Mobile Bay, Ala., as Hurricane Rita turn north, making an eight-foot storm surge possible in the New Orleans area.

"It would have been crazy for us to go out there, under the circumstances," Jornlin said after conferring with U.S. Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers officials Thursday in New Orleans.

Work has continued on the nearly $3 million project of building a new Ohio River dock where the ship will be moored as part of a World War II museum. A total of 167 similar vessels, which carried troops, vehicles and other equipment directly to shore, were built at the Evansville Shipyard during 1942-45.

Rita appeared to be headed for landfall somewhere between Port Arthur, Texas, and Lake Charles, La., nearer LST's intended course, the captain said.

He said it was unlikely the ship would be on the Ohio by Oct. 1, but could sail in time to allow veterans attending a convention of those who served aboard the USS Oriskany to tour the vessel by Oct. 3.

LST 325 is scheduled to sail through New Orleans' industrial canal to the Mississippi River _ a route 12 hours shorter and farther from Rita's path than entering the river directly from the Gulf of Mexico.

Coast Guard and Corps of Engineers officials expressed fears that rainfall Thursday or a later storm surge could break dikes at New Orleans, Jornlin said. That would likely knock out electrical power and make it impossible to open canal locks, they told him.

Evansville Visitors and Convention Bureau's Marilee Fowler said safety was most important.

"It's up to Mother Nature how this will play out," she said. "The important thing is the captain and crew and the ship are safe. We want them here, but we want them here in one piece."


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