Louisiana's growing graveyard of things lost to the oil spill
Coastal towns have been devastated by the black tide of oil that has sullied beaches and closed parts of the Gulf to fishing.
Tue, Jun 15, 2010 at 02:04 AM
MOURNING: White crosses mark everything destroyed by the oil spill spreading across the Gulf Coast. (Photo: Eric Gay/AP)
Row upon row of white crosses mark everything destroyed by the oil spill spreading across the Gulf Coast: birdwatching, marsh grasses, the beach, oysters, blackened redfish, shrimp scampi, dolphins and "our soul."
Patrick Shay was building a larger cross — this one made of crab traps — behind them in the yard of his beachfront home in Grand Isle, La.
"I had to do something with my crab traps — can't crab no more," Shay said as he climbed a ladder to tie a trap to a stake.
This small coastal town has been devastated by the black tide of oil that has sullied its once pristine miles-long beach and shut huge swaths of the Gulf of Mexico to fishing.
The pain is being felt throughout Louisiana and across the Gulf Coast as a massive gusher spreads to Mississippi, Alabama and Florida nearly two months after the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and later sank into the Gulf waters.
Expressing the frustration he shares with so many other Gulf Coast residents, Shay had a simple message for President Barack Obama as he toured the disaster zone: "Stop the leak."
The seafood business owner built the graveyard as a way to cope with his losses.
"We want you to visually see what's at stake here because most of what's dying is sinking to the deep abyss," Shay said. "Our soul is dying and I'm very concerned. There's a lot of unknowns and I don't know what is going to happen to us."
His father-in-law, who likes to call BP chief executive officer Tony Hayward "Tony Baloney," is also hoping against hope that Obama can step in and get BP to finally cap the ruptured well for good.
"We (are) against BP for the simple reason that they took my heritage away from me — in other words, they took my way of life away from me," Donald Shouest said as he held a crab trap for Shay.
"I'm 76 years old now, and by the time this thing gets cleaned up, I may be gone, in the ground."
An emotional toll
The emotional toll from the spill is hard to measure. People are drinking more. They are fighting more.
Kimberly Chauvin pounded the table at a community meeting in nearby Houma, La.
"Where is the safety gear? BP is not taking care of our commercial fishermen!" she shouted at the BP representative.
The mild-mannered man stared blankly at her through his glasses.
"I'm waiting for an answer," Chauvin insisted.
A few minutes later, she was introduced to the U.S. Coast Guard captain in charge of the area.
Chauvin's two sons are working on the cleanup efforts. They say the gloves officials have given them are so thin that oil is soaking through to their skin.
Men who spent their entire lives on boats are getting weak from the mix of heat, fumes and stuffy respirators.
"Nobody stood up in those meetings and told us it'll be your health or your home," Chauvin said.
Capt. Roger Laferriere took notes and told her he's an industrial hygienist who helped write the U.S. Coast Guard's policy for oil spill cleanups. He promised to make sure the rules are being followed and report back to her.
Chauvin said she would still have her sons get blood tests to make sure the oil has not already affected them.
Across the room, Samantha and O'Neil Sevin shook their heads in disgust. Sales at their bait shop and seafood processing plant were at $20,000 the week before the spill. Now, they are making just $500 a week and had to lay off all their staff.
"It's completely crippled us," O'Neil Sevin said as he rocked back and forth anxiously.
An eighth-generation shrimper, he is used to working every day and depression is settling in.
"You tell me what to do with a man who's worked for 37 years," Samantha Sevin said. "And how dare they ask us to clean up their mess and put toxic chemicals on my husband and my children."
She paused, took a breath and cracked a joke.
"I've got to laugh about it or I'm going to cry myself insane," she said. "By the light of God, I've got to get through this."
Copyright 2010 AFP Global Edition