Amid Oil Spill, Louisiana Residents Confront Helplessness People in Louisiana aren't strangers to disaster, but they say this oil spill is different. The disaster is ongoing and there is no road map for moving ahead. Many are finding they can't even volunteer to help with the cleanup.
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In Wake Of Spill, Louisiana Residents Feel Helpless

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In Wake Of Spill, Louisiana Residents Feel Helpless

In Wake Of Spill, Louisiana Residents Feel Helpless

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GUY RAZ, host:

Now even in a place like Louisiana where disaster has, of course, struck before, people are starting to say that this one - the oil spill - is different. There's a feeling of helplessness as many find that can't even volunteer to help with the cleanup.

NPR's Tamara Keith reports on how people are coping.

TAMARA KEITH: 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, so he built a new one.

But this time around, it's different. Oil is still spewing into the Gulf of Mexico. The disaster is ongoing and he says there's no road map for moving ahead.

Mr. CHRIS LEOPOLD: I mean, look at (unintelligible). It's like a war zone down here. And it's going to go on for a while. But I mean, 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.

KEITH: He says his kids were feeling powerless, too, so he organized a rally for local children to help them feel like they could do something about the spill. They made signs and even wrote a song...

Unidentified Group #1: (Singing) Who you going to call?

Unidentified Group #2: (Singing) Oil busters.

KEITH: That's oil busters, to the tune of the "Ghostbusters." But so far, that's about all these kids have been able to do.

Twelve-year-old John Mark Trahan seems discouraged.

Mr. JOHN MARK TRAHAN: I feel like someone needs to hurry up and do something about it.

KEITH: Do you feel like there's anything that you or anybody else that you know can do?

Mr. TRAHAN: No. I don't think so.

KEITH: Eleven-year-old Kelsey Fontaine is wearing a T-shirt she made at camp, with pictures of birds and sea creatures on the front. She says she wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up.

Ms. KELSEY FONTAINE: Looking at all of the animals, it makes me want to cry. 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.

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

Ms. KELLY FONTAINE: They'll never know what trawling is and fishing. You know, 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 - you know, a long time.

Mr. JEFF DORSON (President, Humane Society of Louisiana): 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.

KEITH: Jeff Dorson is president of the Humane Society of Louisiana. And he's presiding over an interface service on the beach in Grand Isle. It's an area that's had more than its fair share of oil.

Mr. DORSON: Maybe we can magically help stop the flow of oil, even through the power of prayer.

Unidentified Woman #1: Amen.

Unidentified Woman #2: And may the Lord bless you abundantly and give us the mercy (unintelligible).

KEITH: 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 on a berm overlooking the ocean and holds hands.

Julie Cambre spends her summers on Grand Isle. She can't even sit on the beach and read because of the oil.

Ms. JULIE CAMBRE: You've lost your peace of mind. You've lost your faith in humanity, really. You know, you don't know for years to come what this oil is going to do to this area. And as a person, I can't do anything.

KEITH: In Louisiana, some 8,000 people 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 has been told her volunteer services aren't needed.

Ms. CARRIE CROCKETT: I'm not even very religious and I came out for a blessing because it's the only thing that I can do.

KEITH: An oysterman told me this spill is like living through an old "Godzilla" movie: You know the monster is coming, yet everyone seems stuck, powerless to stop it.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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