Oaks Felled by Katrina Get New Life at Sea Many of the downed live oaks left by Katrina are now safely in storage at the Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. The wood is invaluable for ship restoration, and the whaler Charles W. Morgan, built in 1841, will be the immediate beneficiary.
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Oaks Felled by Katrina Get New Life at Sea

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Oaks Felled by Katrina Get New Life at Sea

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, a college professor publishes her teenaged diary. But first, today the Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut is celebrating the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan, with music, stories and visits by descendants of past crew members.

The Morgan was built in 1841. It went on 37 whaling expeditions. And for many decades now, it's been a dockside exhibit at Mystic. The museum intends to restore the ship. And live oak trees, ripped up by Hurricane Katrina, will help make that possible.

NPR's Noah Adams found part of this story on reporting trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

NOAH ADAMS reporting:

Hundreds, even thousands of live oak trees were washed out of the ground or blasted apart by Katrina. It presented a painful opportunity for Quentin Snediker. He is the shipyard director at Mystic, a man who both loves and needs live oak trees. After the storm, a telephone call brought him to the coast.

Mr. QUENTIN SNEDIKER (Shipyard Director): The trees look like huge fallen animals.

ADAMS: It was a doctor, Chuck Lobrano, of Long Beach, Mississippi who had made the call. His biggest tree had gone down. Lobrano had seen the USS Constitution in Boston, and knew live oak was favored for shipbuilding, so he offered his oak tree to Mystic and Quentin Snediker.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. CHARLES LOBRANO (Donor of Live Oak Tree): He goes, well, Dr., I'll tell you what. We can't just come down for one tree. Send me a picture of it. And I said, well, Mr. Snediker, I'll be honest with you. You probably can build an armada of boats with the number of trees that are downed down here, and I'm sure people will be more than happy for you to take off.

ADAMS: Live oak trees are called that because they stay green all winter. The big ones have limbs that are like wing spans reaching out to touch the ground. The Lobranos had several on their property. And when the hurricane winds arrived, the family stood watch.

Dr. LOBRANO: I had put my son, my 16-year-old son, in the front of the house. And I was in the back. He yelled and came running back down that the big tree had fallen.

ADAMS: The big tree - actually it was half of a double live oak - was perhaps 400 years old. Sandra Lobrano had named this tree Bienville, after the explorer.

Do either of you ever recall the way the tree smelled when it was down?

Ms. SANDRA LOBRANO (Donor of Live Oak Trees): Like fresh cut wood. It smells like oak. It was just a beautiful tree with lots of birds in it and the hawk would usually sit in it several times of the morning. And it was so devastating to lose something that had been on this property forever, before we ever took possession of it.

ADAMS: And now the whaling ship, the Charles W. Morgan, awaits the wood. Live oak is heavy and hard to work, and not much good for anything. But for shipbuilding, it's great. Quentin Snediker says if you'd cut a boat in half, lengthwise, you'd see the tree.

Mr. SNEDIKER: You look at the gentle curves, the sweeps that make up the sections of the framing in the vessel, and lay that shape against the live oak tree, you're sure to find a piece that follows the natural grain of the tree. And that imparts strength. The fewer pieces that go to making up that curve, the stronger the vessel, over all.

ADAMS: Mystic Seaport trucked more than 200 tons of wood from the Mississippi coast to Connecticut, a big help for the Morgan project and for smaller shipyards as well. The Labranos find satisfaction in that, and warmth in the oak that was left behind. Dr. Lobrano says Quentin didn't get it all.

Dr. LOBRANO: Yeah. I have it right in the back, if you want to see my firewood.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. LOBRANO: And I burned it all winter.

ADAMS: Mm hmm.

Dr. LOBRANO: You know, there was plenty of nice size logs to use to burn.

ADAMS: Noah Adams, NPR News.

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