In Wake Of Spill, Louisiana Residents Feel Helpless

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Following an interfaith service, people gather at a berm overlooking the ocean and hold hands. i

Following an interfaith service in Grand Isle, La., people gather at a berm overlooking the ocean and hold hands. Tamara Keith/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Tamara Keith/NPR
Following an interfaith service, people gather at a berm overlooking the ocean and hold hands.

Following an interfaith service in Grand Isle, La., people gather at a berm overlooking the ocean and hold hands.

Tamara Keith/NPR

People in Louisiana aren't strangers to disaster, but they say this oil spill is different. There's a feeling of helplessness, as many find they can't even volunteer to help with the cleanup.

Commercial developer Chris Leopold says he knew what to do in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The storm destroyed a Dollar General store he built in the town of Port Sulphur, La., so he built a new one.

But this time around, it's different. Oil is still spewing into the Gulf of Mexico after the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 people. The disaster is ongoing and Leopold says there is no road map for moving ahead.

"It's like a war zone down here," Leopold says. "And it's going to go on for a while.

"There were hurricanes before, Betsy and Camille, that people could always reference in what happened then and use it 25 or 30 years later, but now that's not the case with this."

'Oil Busters'

Leopold says his kids were feeling powerless, too, so he organized a rally to help children feel like they could do something about the spill. They made signs and even wrote a song called "Oil Busters," sung to the tune of the Ghost Busters theme. But so far that's about all these kids have been able to do.

"I feel like someone needs to hurry up and do something about it," says 12-year-old John Mark Trahan.

He seems discouraged when asked if he feels like there's anything he can do.

"No. I don't think so," he says.

Kelsey Fontaine, 11, is wearing a T-shirt she made at camp, with pictures of birds and sea creatures on the front.

"Looking at all of the animals, it makes me want to cry," says Kelsey, who wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up. "I can't stand it looking at them.

"And then I wanted to go help out at least clean them, but I'm under aged so I can't do it."

Kelly Fontaine, Kelsey's mother, tears up as her daughter talks. She doesn't have any grandchildren yet, but she worries about what it will be like for them.

"They'll never know what trawling is and fishing," she says, reflecting on her own childhood. "My dad, every Sunday, we went out to the beach and, you know, swim. We can't do that this year and probably for the next ... a long time."

Praying For An Improvement

In Grand Isle, a group of about 30 people gathers for an interfaith service. The area has gotten more than its fair share of oil.

"I really want to thank you all so much for taking time today out of your schedule to join with us together on this very special day," says Jeff Dorson, president of the Humane Society of Louisiana.

Dorson isn't a minister. He's an animal-rights advocate, but on this evening he's channeling his spiritual side.

"Maybe we can magically help stop the flow of oil, even through the power of prayer," he says over a loudspeaker.

An "amen" rises up from the crowd.

Dorson is followed by a Catholic priest, a Methodist minister and a woman who reads a passage in French. There are tears and amens and when the service is done, everyone gathers at a berm overlooking the ocean and holds hands.

"You've lost your peace of mind. You've lost your faith in humanity, really," says Julie Cambre, who spends her summers on Grand Isle. She say she can't even sit on the beach to read because of the oil.

"You don't know for years to come what this oil is going to do to this area," she says. "And as a person, I can't do anything."


Some 8,000 people in Louisiana have offered to volunteer with the cleanup, but so far few have had an opportunity to pitch in.

Carrie Crockett went to Mississippi after Katrina to rescue pets and helped rebuild houses in Louisiana. Now she wants to help oiled birds, but she has been told her volunteer services aren't needed.

"I'm not even very religious and I came out for a blessing because it's the only thing that I can do," Crockett says, her voice shaking.

An oysterman described this spill as like living through an old Godzilla movie: You know the monster is coming. Yet everyone seems stuck, powerless to stop it.



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