Double Jeopardy: One Couple, Two Oil Spills

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It seems like Jeanne and Bob Donald just can't get a break. They lived in Valdez, Alaska, in 1989. She was a city clerk. He was a mental health counselor. As such, both were involved in the fallout from the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Their town was transformed by the disaster and eventually they moved to Bob's hometown Gulf Shores, Ala., to be closer to their elderly mothers.

Now the Donalds own Hope's Cheesecake, a shop that would normally be buzzing with tourists at this time of the year, except for another massive disaster — the BP oil spill.

Business is suffering, Bob says, because there are no tourists.

"I think a lot of tourists are waiting to see what's gonna happen," Bob tells NPR's Michele Norris. "Right now, our beaches don't have oil on them. They're beautiful white, sandy beaches. But I know that rental companies are talking about how their bookings are half of what they usually are. Our business is down 54 percent from what it was this time last year. I think everybody is holding their breath collectively to see what's going to happen in the long run."

The mood among his family and friends reminds Bob of his time in Valdez. But the Gulf spill is different, he says, because it's lasting longer than the Valdez spill did.

"We lived in a small town that was affected in a lot of ways quite differently because it was a small, isolated community in Alaska," he says. "It was kind of a slow-motion thing here. In Valdez, it happened overnight, the oil was done, we knew how much was there, how much had to be picked up. Here, for weeks and weeks and weeks nobody knew the extent, where it was going to go, how much, whether they could stop it. So a lot of it was the agony, was the pending thing, 'What's going to happen?'"

And that agony is taking a toll on the people along the Gulf. Bob says he expects that people will continue to struggle well after the Gulf spill is cleaned up.

"I think the stuff we saw in Valdez happened over some period of time, and I think we'll see the same things happen here," he says. "We did have a charter boat captain kill himself here a few weeks back. That's the kind of thing we're going to see more of as time goes on.

"We saw divorce, we saw domestic violence, suicide, alcoholism, all of it exponentially grow. I think you're going to see the same thing happen here. Right now everything is emotionally pending. BP is writing checks for a lot of people right now. So they're keeping an even keel, if nothing else. But at some point at time, the money is not going to keep things at bay. I think things are going to boil over, tensions are going to increase and I think you're going to see the same psycho-social problems as we did in Valdez."

As a result, Bob is thinking of getting back into mental health.

"I actually met with the director of the county system here and told her I was kind of interested in getting back in the field if the opportunity arose. And she seemed receptive to that," he says. "So I guess I'm feeling drawn back into it."

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