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Coast Guard recovers bodies of fishermen lost in hurricane

NEW IBERIA, La. -- The bodies of four of six Alabama-based commercial fishermen apparently lost in the Gulf of Mexico during Hurricane Andrew were recovered Tuesday off the Louisiana coast, officials said.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Jeff Murphy said the commercial fishing vessel Lucky Le, which left 16 days ago from La Batre, Ala., on the southwest corner of Mobile Bay, was a victim of the hurricane 'as far as we can tell.'

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Murphy said one of the bodies was identified as that of Tuang Hoang Le, captain of the boat. There were six crew members and two of them remain missing. Another fishing vessel spotted the first bodies 60 miles south of Atchafalaya Bay.

The Lucky Le was the only vessel reported missing during the storm in the Louisiana area, he said.

Murphy said the Coast Guard was also rechecking oil and gas drilling platforms in the gulf. He said nine rigs were lost, but there have been no deaths or injuries because crews were evacuated before the storm.

An overflight of a leaking pipeline40 miles southwest of Grand Isle Tuesday found it had stopped leaking, the Coast Guard said. The 500- square foot slick was reported 6 miles south of Houma with a sheen extending 3 miles.

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Texaco has taken responsibility for the cleanup, even though the owner of the pipeline has not been determined, the Coast Guard said.

The Office of Emergency Preparedness in Baton Rouge said five deaths have been officially blamed on the hurricane and the Alabama fishermen may be added after autopsies are conducted by the Plaquemine Parish Coroner's office. There were 24 deaths linked to the storm in Florida and another three deaths in the Bahamas.

Meanwhile, President Bush arrived in Lafayette Tuesday for a second tour of hurricane devastation. He was to view sugar cane damage near Jeanerette and possibly Franklin before returning to Lafayette for the flight home.

His visit to Louisiana came one day after the first federal aid checks went out in the state.

The first 29 checks for $42,000 were handed out Monday at federal- assistance centers in five locations, as federal officials visited one of the application centers in New Iberia, one of the hardest hit areas by last week's hurricane.

'This group of checks are for people who got into the system almost immediately,' said Ben Frizzell, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 'We were able to get out and verify their losses last week, so those checks are out to them today.'

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Transportation Secretary Andrew Card and FEMA Director Wallace Stickley toured the FEMA assistance center and a Baptist volunteer center distributing food and ice.

Frizzell said the first checks would help buy temporary shelter or make repairs. He said President Bush, who has promised $78 million in federal aid to the state, would seek more funds from Congress if necessary.

About 55,000 residents still lacked electrical power in the 17 parishes declared disaster areas by FEMA.

Louisiana storm victims began receiving disaster assistance sooner than their counterparts in Florida because Louisiana officials acted sooner, said Stickney.

'Everybody was simply more prepared over here,' Stickney said. 'I'm really pleased the president acted as soon as he did. It just depresses me to read of the criticism' of federal response to the disaster.

The agency has opened disaster assistance offices in Franklin, Plaquemine, Morgan City, New Iberia, Houma and a central office in Baton Rouge.

Maj. Gen. Ansel Stroud, head of the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness and commander of the state's National Guard, said he deployed 1,400 troops and 400 items of equipment to cope with the disaster.

Managers of relief agencies and public officials said they had received a great outpouring of assistance and charitable donations.

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'I am overwhelmed with the generosity,' said Capt. Mark Smith of the Salvation Army in New Orleans. 'People who two weeks ago were clients are digging something out of their cupboards. It seems to me that everybody wants to be involved.'

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