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Louisiana's Gulf Coast Braces For Oil's Arrival

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Louisiana's Gulf Coast Braces For Oil's Arrival

Environment

Louisiana's Gulf Coast Braces For Oil's Arrival

Louisiana's Gulf Coast Braces For Oil's Arrival

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Oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico is very close the coastline of Louisiana. The Coast Guard and other emergency responders are gathering in five areas along the Gulf Coast to try to protect land and wildlife. One fisherman says "Katrina ain't nothing compared to what's going to happen with this oil."

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, Im Steve Inskeep.

The first traces of that massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are beginning to reach the coast of Louisiana. The Coast Guard and other emergency responders are gathering along the coast to try to protect land and wildlife. Venice, Louisiana, about 70 miles south of New Orleans, is one of those areas it's in the Mississippi River Delta.

NPR's Cheryl Corley is there. Hi, Cheryl.

CHERYL CORLEY: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Whats been happening in Venice today?

CORLEY: Well, you know, residents are very concerned here in Venice, and some are quite fearful, because many of them make their living in the fishing and shrimping industry.

As I came into town - Highway 23 is the main thoroughfare and it leads directly to the Gulf. And as you drive along that road, you see in the yards of the towns that you pass, boats next to the homes, just like you'd see cars next to garages, anyplace else. So it tells you that fishing is very important here.

BP, the rig operator, says it's conducting, along with the Coast Guard and others, what could be called the largest oil spill containment operation in history. There have been efforts here, in Venice, Louisiana and elsewhere out in the water, to burn that oil. Theyve been dropping dispersants on it to breakup the slick, hopefully. But the spill is just much bigger than previously thought. And despite all those efforts to contain it, the slick has proved to just be a very determined adversary.

INSKEEP: Now, when you use the word contain, I think of those booms that they can put out on the water that sort of sweep up a lot of the oil. Do they have that kind of defense waiting - the last line of defense there along the coast at Venice?

CORLEY: Well, they have what they are calling scrimmers(ph) and those sorts of things and these booms that they're trying to put up - these barriers to stop the spill from actually coming into areas that they want to keep it away from.

So, you know, they have all of these devices that they're trying. But so far, like I said, not much luck.

INSKEEP: What have people in Venice been saying?

CORLEY: Most aren't very optimistic. Of course, in Venice we're near a couple of wildlife reserves that are being threatened by this oil spill. So people are calling this a potential catastrophe. This is very near the beginning of the regular shrimping season. And shrimpers in Louisiana and Alabama have filed class action lawsuits against BP and the oil rig owner.

But there are others who really just dont blame the companies but they are preparing for the worst. And I talked to a commercial fisherman last night, as he was coming in. This is Donald Cheramie.

Mr. DONALD CHERAMIE (Commercial Fisherman): Katrina ain't nothing compared to what's fixing to happen with this oil. You know, recreational, the wildlife, the ducks, you know, everything is just going to be gone.

INSKEEP: Does not sound like people have a lot of hope that all those containment efforts are going to work.

CORLEY: No, I dont think there is much hope. But, you know, I talk to people and you hear the sense of pragmatism in their voice.

Frank Fralish(ph) is the yacht captain who runs a sports fishing business in Venice. And he says that weather is the key. And right now a choppy sea and some very high waves have made it relatively difficult to fight the oil slick.

Captain FRANK FRALISH (Owner, Sports Fishing Business): You know, right now in the Gulf, youve got six to eight foot seas. You know, and it's hard to contain anything in a six to eight foot sea. You know, a lot of people dont know what six to eight foot seas are, but Im there all the time and I know. And it's really hard to contain and really hard to work. You know, and the weather is really hampering them pretty bad right now.

CORLEY: So thats what he thinks.

And, you know, there are lots of people paying attention to this. President Obama has sent three cabinet members to come check it out. Today, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and the Interior secretary will be in town, and the Environmental Protection Agency administrator. They'll all be flying over the spill area today to take a look at the efforts that have been made so far.

INSKEEP: NPR's Cheryl Corley reporting from Venice, Louisiana on the Gulf of Mexico. Cheryl, thanks very much.

CORLEY: You're quite welcome.

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