Rig Worker's Death Swallowed By Spill

Keith Blair Manuel, 56, of Eunice, La., was remembered in a service on Friday. Manuel was one of 11 oil rig workers killed in an explosion in the Gulf of Mexico two weeks ago. Some families of the missing workers say their deaths have been overlooked in coverage of the spill that followed the blast.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Engineers have deployed robots to the Gulf of Mexico to prepare the sea floor for a 98-ton chamber they hope will contain the ruptured undersea well that's spewing millions of gallons of oil. In Eunice, Louisiana yesterday, family and friends remembered Keith Blair Manuel. He was one of 11 victims of that oil rig explosion that led to the spill in the gulf, and the last to be eulogized.

NPR's Larry Abramson visited Eunice and has this report.

LARRY ABRAMSON: Parents L.D. and Geneva Manuel are sitting in lawn chairs in the backyard of their home in Eunice, gathering their thoughts on the day before they say goodbye to their son, whom they call Blair. They're taking a break from the nonstop news coverage of the oil spill.

Geneva Manuel says it's painful to hear the media focus completely on the threat to the environment.

Ms. GENEVA MANUEL: It's not that I'm insensitive to animals or anything else. This is just a time where I don't want to see a dove being cleaned by Dawn liquid when my son is not there.

ABRAMSON: In the hallway of their home, the Manuels have a wall of condolence cards they've received. There's a newspaper clipping showing the horrific fire that followed the explosion. The oil platform eventually sank. L.D. is still haunted by the question: What were his son's final moments like? His body was never recovered.

Mr. L.D. MANUEL: We're going to a burial. What are we going to bury? A memory. No body - only a memory.

ABRAMSON: The Manuels had to come up with a substitute. At a local funeral home the next day, family and friends dropped mementos into a memory box.

Outside, a bus arrives full of officials from MI Swaco, the company Blair Manuel worked for. He didn't work for BP. MI Swaco is one of the countless contractors who do specialized tasks. Blair Manuel was what's known as a mud engineer.

Rocco Olivier(ph), a longtime colleague, says he believes his friend was working close to the place where the explosion originated.

Mr. ROCCO OLIVIER: That's what we're hoping, that he was very close to where it happened.

ABRAMSON: And why do you hope that?

Mr. OLIVIER: Because it would've been instant. The explosion was so massive, I'm sure it killed everybody instantly.

ABRAMSON: Olivier says the company will take care of the family. Some of the other families have filed lawsuits. The Manuels have not yet decided about that.

Blair Manuel was 56 years old, a divorced father of three grown daughters. He was about to be married again in July. He also left behind many friends.

(Soundbite of woman singing)

ABRAMSON: Hundreds gathered Friday for a Mass at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Eunice. A special Gospel passage was chosen for Blair. It was the story of how Jesus appeared to the Apostles after the resurrection and filled their empty fishing nets.

Unidentified Man #1: Blair was such an outdoorsman. He loved fishing and hunting. His hunting buddies called him Grow Bebe(ph), which means big baby.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Hallelujah, hallelujah...

ABRAMSON: BP faces a lot of questions about safety, about how the rescue of the survivors was handled, but there was no bitterness in this crowd. Many people across this state depend on oil and gas drilling for their daily bread. Blair Manuel's memory box was buried in a local cemetery. His parents would like to see another memorial. They'd like the companies involved in this explosion to bring all 11 families out on a boat to see their final resting place.

Larry Abramson, NPR News.

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