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Fisherman, wife who refused to leave boat get some welcome help

BILOXI, Miss.—A fisherman and his pregnant wife who lived on a dock without running water or electricity for weeks after their shrimp boat was marooned during Hurricane Katrina are back on board.

On Sunday, after Knight Ridder newspapers told their story, a salvage company lifted the 50-foot Rising Angel boat from an embankment and placed it back on the Industrial Seaway for free.

From there, Chau and Le Nguyen, immigrants from Vietnam who are expecting twins next year, steered their boat through the bayou and docked at a familiar harbor, where they've begun to resume life as they once knew it.

Then they received more good news.

On Monday, a woman from Austin, Texas, offered to put up the Nguyens in an apartment she owns in nearby Gulfport, Miss. On Tuesday, the couple received $1,000 from a software engineer in San Jose, Calif., who read about their need for a generator.

"We're very thankful," said Chau Nguyen, 50, after receiving the money.

"Tell all the people thank you," said Le Nguyen, who said she's in her mid-30s.

Like other shrimpers seeking safety when Katrina was approaching, Chau Nguyen moved his boat to an inland waterway. But the winds hit hard there, sinking many boats and tossing others onto the embankment.

When the winds picked up, the Nguyens boarded a neighboring boat for safety. Chau Nguyen's red-and-white boat suffered minimal damage, but he refused to leave it for fear of looters. His wife refused to leave him, for fear of being alone.

The Coast Guard and American Red Cross encouraged the couple to move to a shelter, but they insisted on staying on a lonely dock, cooking on logs, so that Chau Nguyen could watch his beloved boat.

"In this country you wonder how people can live like that," said Vince Duong, the Vietnamese-born software engineer who collected money from his friends, telling them, "We have to do something."

The Nguyens thought they would be on the dock for at least several more weeks, but workers with J.E. Borries Marine Construction, encouraged by an employee of Clear Channel Communications and others, moved faster than expected.

The job required eight men, a tug and a crane atop a barge, and two pieces of heavy equipment on a nearby hill. It would normally cost more than $12,000.

The Nguyens, who are unsure whether to spend the $1,000 to fix the boat's generator or gather an additional $2,000 to buy a new one, are using a neighbor's electrical cord for power.

Fishing is off-limits because the gulf waters are said to be contaminated, so Chau Nguyen plans to take a $10-an-hour cleanup job.

They have politely declined the Gulfport apartment, said Huynh Nguyen, a Coast Guard reserve petty officer assigned to interpret between the couple and relief workers.

"They're comfortable here. There's other people living on boats here—there's sort of a community."

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): KATRINA-STRANDED

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