USS Orleck battered but not broken by Hurricane Laura, director explains future plans for the ship

KPLC 7News at Six - Oct 1 - Part II

LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - It’s a bit battered but not completely broken.

Hurricane Laura caused major damage across Southwest Louisiana and the USS Orleck was no exception. At the beginning of the year, the naval ship was all set to move to Jacksonville but COVID-19 put things on hold.

Ship Superintendent Steve Miller went to the Orleck berth at about 10:30 AM after the storm to find the ship gone.

“I got to the lot, I was really shocked because I didn’t see the ship at all," Miller said.

Miller says it was a jaw-dropping site those first few hours out from the storm...

“A real major shock that the hurricane had just taken everything away and my imagination was just going wild like...Sunk! Did it capsize and sink during the storm? I had no idea what had happened," said Miller.

Laura uprooted the 75-year old ex-US Navy ship pushing it nearly a mile away from its post in the Calcasieu River.

“Later we found this ship and other vessels all broke loose and I’m sure they’re all banged up just like this one was...all sorts of damage from collisions with each other. The amazing this is it’s floating high and leveled, it didn’t take on water.”

Now returned to its normal space...

“The big eye beam that makes up the boat davit is bent over and halfway broken at the base...I have black tape over where the metal is cracked.”

The damage done and the fate of The Orleck comes into clear view...

“Considering COVID, the storm here, the damage to the ship, and the earliest that we could get it to dry dock is the middle of December..”

A timeline that Orleck Director Ron Williams says has been extended more times than he can count.

“We’re not any more special than anyone else except for the fact that we have a historic ship we’re trying to preserve for posterity,” Williams said.

“To think that we have to just let it go and get it cut up into scrap metal...it’s a shame to see," Miller said.

Keeping history at top of mind in a year that has thrown many curveballs their way, the pair remains optimistic about the ship’s future.

"To me, it’s a big unknown, we don’t know what’s going to happen, there’s no guarantee, no promise...

“We hope it’s with the whole ship in a new place and we’ll work it from there.”

Williams said now due to Hurricane Laura, the decision to get the ship moved to Jacksonville, Florida mainly rests in the hands of that city. Williams says their window of opportunity to get the ship moved is slowly closing because the property where the Orleck currently sits could be used for hurricane recovery in the coming months.

Williams says plans are already in place to repair the Orleck.

“ORLECK is now tied up at our neighbor upriver, and we are working with our insurance carrier to move to another location where we can access her for further inspection and evaluation.”

Williams asks that you remember he and his crew in these tough times.

Donations to keep the ORLECK a Naval Museum Ship can be sent HERE.

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