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Oil Spill Hurts Businesses In Post-Katrina Gulf
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Oil Spill Hurts Businesses In Post-Katrina Gulf

Environment

Oil Spill Hurts Businesses In Post-Katrina Gulf

Oil Spill Hurts Businesses In Post-Katrina Gulf
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The Gulf Coast is filled with people who were just getting back on their feet, nearly five years after Hurricane Katrina. Now, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is placing their recovery at risk, along with thousands of other families.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We are also this morning following the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. There are ongoing efforts to cap a leak of an undersea well and to keep the giant oil slick away from shore. Along the Gulf Coast, the economic and environmental worries are growing here as people wait, and many are just getting back on their feet five years after Hurricane Katrina.

NPR's Cheryl Corley visited one such family. They live in Boothville, Louisiana.

CHERYL CORLEY: The sign in front of Maws Sandwich Shop beckons drivers with a giant picture of a crawfish. The restaurant is one of those roadside drive-ups located right off Highway 23. Cherie Pete is the owner.

Ms. CHERIE PETE (Owner, Maws Sandwich Shop): My shop is closed today because I have to go into New Orleans to go get some supplies.

CORLEY: Cherie Pete says she's lived through plenty of hurricanes - Katrina and Rita the last ones - but this oil spill, that's different.

Ms. PETE: It's everyone in the community. We're scared. I mean weve evacuated the store. Weve come back, little damage. Weve come back with totally having to bulldoze our property and start from scratch, you know, like we did with Katrina. But this is something that we dont know how to prepare for.

CORLEY: On one side of Cherie Pete's restaurant is her home, on the other side a couple of grassy lots with a tree and several tall posts in the ground. Her husband Alfred is a former commercial fisherman who started building fiberglass boats when the shrimping business lagged. He's walking the land with a man from the utility company.

Mr. ALFRED PETE: You ain't got to run much to these trails(ph).

CORLEY: Alfred Pete says they had planned to build a camping site for people coming into the area to fish. Now they're trying to get electricity running at the site so they can offer lodging to people coming to town to help clean up the oil spill.

Mr. PETE: Hopefully we can get them rented out, you know? They come down, they got a trail, and maybe we can luck out and get a spot rent it out.

CORLEY: Since the BP oil slick has closed many of the fishing lanes in the Gulf, the Petes say they know they have a few more options than friends who work directly in the fishing industry. Even so, Cherie Pete says it's still a precarious situation for them since people who would normally come to the area to fish and eat at the restaurant won't be around.

Ms. PETE: You know, weve used our savings to build my shop, you know, and he made SBA loans to help him recover from Katrina and to start with his fiber -to get everything ready for his fiberglasses, and we dont know how we're going to pay that back now.

CORLEY: In the kitchen of the restaurant, a small refrigerator sits under one of the counters, a piece salvaged after Hurricane Katrina. Cherie Pete also keeps photos nearby.

Ms. PETE: This was my shop pre-Katrina, only nine weeks into business.

CORLEY: Same sort of shop as you have.

Ms. PETE: Same sort of shop I have here now.

CORLEY: The restaurant was pushed off its foundation and crumpled around a pole. Her home was under 17 feet of water. But the Petes were among the first in the area to make their way back. They reconstructed the shop by themselves and reopened it in February of 2009.

Ms. PETE: It was a dream of mine since I was six years old to have this business.

CORLEY: Cherie Pete says the oil spill will be tough for her family but she's worried even more about fishermen.

Ms. PETE: There is no FEMA bounce jumping in to say, okay, here's some money to help pay your bills for the next couple months till we figure out what's going on. There is no SBA calling to say, okay, we're going to relieve your notes for five, six months to see whats going to go on. We have not heard any of that yet, and that's something I think the we - the fishermen need to hear.

CORLEY: How about you? What do you need to hear? It's your livelihood too.

Ms. PETE: It's mine. It's mine, but - sorry - but I worry about them because I know I can always fall back on something else.

CORLEY: And Cherie Pete says it doesnt matter that the BP oil spill has not reached land yet. She says its effects are already here and only likely to become more detrimental in the next few days.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Boothville, Louisiana.

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