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Ronald Baker

part 1, 2

Ronald Baker with a few of his surviving boats.

Baker is a commercial fisherman. He was aboard his shrimp boat when Katrina hit. As he had many times during past hurricanes, he sheltered the King Arthur in an inland bayou to ride out the storm. But Katrina wasn't a typical Gulf Coast hurricane.

"It got kind of hairy for awhile," Baker says. "We watched houses around us go to pieces from the wind. Right alongside of the boat was someone's shower stall and their fiberglass bathtub. Saw wedding pictures along side of the boat. They caught the devil, the people living on the bayou."

It was no better back in Baker's neighborhood, the Point Cadet section of East Biloxi. He and his wife, Velma, prepared for the storm by putting family photos and other treasures in their utility room.

"I had a model schooner I made which was probably my prized possession," Baker says. Before the steel-hulled diesel rigs arrived, Biloxi's fishing fleet was made up of picturesque, two-masted sailboats. "I put it up on the washer-dryer thinking it'd be safe. Of course when we come back, there was no utility room, no house, no nothing."

But the boats Baker owns in addition to the King Arthur - the antique wooden sloops and skiffs - mostly survived. Some drifted into neighbors' yards. Some stayed put in the huge, steel utility shed at the back of Baker's lot. With blue deck paint speckling his sun-browned arms, the 63-year-old fisherman pointed to the two boats he's fixing up for his brother and son. "The other six are mine," he says with a bashful laugh.

Ronald Baker's family is one of the oldest and best-known clans in East Biloxi. The Bakers have been working the Gulf of Mexico waters for more than 150 years. He was raised on Deer Island, a sliver of land just off the Biloxi Coast.

"We lived on boats," Baker remembers. "When I dated, we didn't have cars, so we dated in sailboats. When I had to go to school we rowed to school, in a boat. Went to church, ballgame, we'd row across."

The Baker family lived on Deer Island until 1969, when Hurricane Camille washed them and everything else off the island. No one lives there now - it's public land. Ronald Baker resettled on the mainland where he and Velma raised five sons and a daughter. Now in the wake of Katrina, Baker is likely to get washed out of East Biloxi.

More casinos are coming to the neighborhood. So are condos, water parks and hotels, according to city officials.


Continue to part 2