Gulf Residents Not Sure Leak's Worst Is Over

It may be generations before the longterm impact of the BP oil spill is known. But for the Gulf Coast, the impact this summer has been a huge financial hit. As Washington and BP try to write the final chapter of the oil disaster, coastal residents are wondering how they're going to weather the fallout from a lost season.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It would never have been a good time for that oil well to burst, but the timing was particularly bad for those along the Gulf Coast who make a year's living from a summer season.

All along the Gulf Coast, residents have taken a huge financial hit this summer. For many of them, the latest developments in sealing the damaged well are less important than how they're going to weather the fallout from a lost season.

NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: At a town hall meeting yesterday in Orange Beach, Alabama, BP vice president Kris Sliger brought what he considered to be good news.

Mr. KRIS SLIGER (Vice President, BP): With respect to the well, in simple terms that we are using, the Wicked Witch of the West is dead.

ELLIOTT: But there were no cheers or parading munchkins, only a steady stream of frustrated business owners and fishermen lining up to ask how they are to survive now that BPs oil spill has destroyed the peak summer tourism season.

Mr. EDDIE HALL (Charter Boat Captain): We are at zero now. Were not making nothing. Were at the dock. Im speaking for a lot of us, not just me. We cant hang on no more. We cannot hang on no more.

ELLIOTT: Eddie Hall is the captain of the Shady Lady, a 65-foot charter fishing boat. Outside the community center, he describes how his crew usually works enough in the summer to make it the rest of year.

Mr. HALL: Right now wed be fishing for tuna fish, red snapper, the amber jacks. Wed have a full-fledged blown-out season, every day back to back fishing trips from - anywhere from a 12-hour fishing trip to a 36-hour.

ELLIOTT: Making up to $6,000 a day. This summer, hes only made $18,000 in all from BP, spotting and skimming oil in the Gulf. But that work ended shortly after the oil stopped gushing. For Hall, the nightmare is far from over.

Mr. HALL: Its like its just beginning. Because now that they contained the dome, now the true side is coming out of what theyre going to do to actually help us (unintelligible) they're not helping us at all. Three days after they contained the cap, everybody was let go.

ELLIOTT: BPs Kris Sliger says the company was using a peak of 1,500 Alabama boats in the cleanup in mid-July. Now it employs only about 150. And that will dwindle further with the new government findings that most of the oil is gone.

Crews who've been working the waters here dispute that. Charter boat captain Donald McDonald says they're still seeing oil both on the surface and underwater.

Mr. DONALD MCDONALD (Charter Boat Captain): If you look at it from BPs side or the governmental side, hey, everything is rosy and shiny and all that sort of stuff. But no, thats not true. The reality is we got a huge problem here and we dont know how long its going to last or how were going to survive it.

ELLIOTT: As the federal response scales back, the city of Orange Beach is ramping up its protection efforts, with help from volunteers.

Mr. MCDONALD: Lets go, were ready, we're ready.

ELLIOTT: Yesterday, a group of district managers from Kenneth Cole stores worked on an assembly line stapling plastic sheeting to snakes of white absorbent boom.

(Soundbite of stapling)

ELLIOTT: The company moved a meeting from Chicago to Orange Beach to help the local economy and do a service project. Missy Saxon manages the Kenneth Cole outlet store in nearby Foley, Alabama. She says the Gulf Coast still needs help.

Ms. MISSY SAXON (Kenneth Cole Store Manager): Well, I think its important for everyone to remember that just because the well is dead it doesnt mean that the oil is gone, that there's still a lot of oil out there that's unaccounted for that I believe is lingering under the surface. Even though you can't see it, it's there.

ELLIOTT: Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon had a similar message at yesterdays town hall meeting. He said the disaster is not over just because BP and the federal government say so.

Mayor TONY KENNON (Orange Beach, Alabama): It aint over till we say its over. Thats my concern. 'Cause I see you guys exiting stage left and that concerns me greatly.

ELLIOTT: Kennon says it wont be over until BP makes good on its promise to make the region whole.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Orange Beach, Alabama.

MONTAGNE: And here now: a timeline of the Gulf oil disaster. On April 20th an explosion and fire struck the drilling rig called the Deepwater Horizon.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

On April 22nd the rig sank. On April 25 the well's blowout preventer failed.

MONTAGNE: On May 7th an attempt to place a containment dome over the well failed. On May 19th the first heavy oil hit Louisiana's marshlands.

INSKEEP: Over the summer more efforts to contain the spill failed before a cap was finally placed on the well. On July 12th the cap was improved

MONTAGNE: This week BP officials said they stopped the flow by clogging the well with mud. Today they follow that up by forcing cement down the well.

INSKEEP: The permanent solution is expected later this month when a relief well will be used to pump more concrete to seal the well for good.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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