Residents Struggle With Oil Spill and Uncertainty

The coast of Louisiana is off limits to its own residents, and their livelihoods and quality of life are suffering, said the pastor of Our Lady of the Isle Parish in Grand Isle. “They can’t fish; they can’t swim; they can’t interact with the water; they can’t live off the food from the water,” the Rev. Mike Tran said. “This oil spill has had a traumatic impact on the people of the island.”

Grand Isle is a barrier island at the mouth of Barataria Bay, where it meets the gulf. The island is connected to the mainland of Louisiana by a causeway. “There are no more tourists; basically everything is shut down. We can’t even enjoy the fresh air when we go outdoors because of the smell of the oil that is continually washing up on the beach,” the priest said. “And now, with the beginning of hurricane season, the stress levels of the residents have risen even more.”

Grand Isle residents and their counterparts across the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux and the rest of the Gulf Coast were waiting anxiously for word that BP has been able to contain the oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico after the blow-out of its drilling rig, Deepwater Horizon. Since the explosion and fire on April 20 that killed 11 workers on the rig, as many as two million gallons or more of oil have been pouring into the gulf each day, and containment efforts by BP to date have been only partially successful.

As oil continues to spread throughout the gulf, the federal government is still scrambling to find the best possible approach to limiting the environmental damage and administering justice in a catastrophe now heading into its third month. Residents of the Gulf Coast whose livelihoods have been affected by the spill are hoping that a $20 billion pledge made by BP to the White House to help residents is not too little, too late.

Even after some success by BP in mid-June to capture some of the oil billowing from a well a mile below the water surface, millions of gallons continue to escape, and there is no one-size-fits-all way to reclaim all the leaked oil without creating new problems. BP’s efforts to drill relief wells are not likely to have significant effects until late summer at best.

There is much uncertainty about the long-term impact of the man-made environmental disaster, which is being called this country’s worst, on the people of south Louisiana who live and make their living on the water. The Rev. Thomas Kuriakose, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Point-aux-Chenes, said many of his parishioners are fishermen, and although they are currently working for BP cleaning up the spill, their future livelihood is threatened.

“I have spoken to a lot of people who are depressed about the uncertainty of what the future holds for them and for the seafood industry in this area,” said Father Kuriakose. The Catholic Charities affiliate of the Archdiocese of New Orleans received a $1 million grant from BP in May for spill-related emergency assistance. The money does not go far. The maximum rent assistance the archdiocesan agency can give is $200.

Connie D’Aquin Bosley has seen the despair firsthand. “What we’re seeing is that the desperation is growing among the fishermen. Tempers are short, and they really feel neglected,” said Bosley, head of Catholic Charities’ emergency management office. “The BP claims process is very slow. It’s not consistent. There’s just gaps right now in what BP offers and what they need right now.”p { margin-bottom: 0.08in; }

Read this article in Spanish. Translation courtesy Mirada Global.

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