Mississippi River floodwaters trickling, not gushing, stalwarts say

18 May

May 17, 2011

By Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, The Times-Picayune The Times-Picayune

The Mississippi River floodwaters flowing through the Morganza Floodway continued to move south on Tuesday, but much more slowly than original Army Corps of Engineers estimates that relied heavily on rates from the 1973 flood.

The 52-year-old Army veteran, sporting matching camouflage T-shirt and sneakers, said he’s not leaving his Krotz Springs home despite the mandatory evacuation order. The day before, on Monday, his next-door neighbor was flagging down cars, warning them to leave the area, assuming they were looters.

About 20 miles south, in Butte LaRose, brothers Tommy and Keith Girouard are ready to ride out whatever comes on their 60-foot Sumerset boat, and readily boast “we got more (guns) than an army does” and if looters “come looking for copper, well, we’re going to give them lead.”

The floodway water is not expected to reach Butte LaRose for a few days, and then it’s that “backwash effect” that could affect Krotz Springs as the sudden introduction of floodway water into the Atchafalaya River could cause the water to elevate upstream, explained Garron Ross, who runs the U.S. Geological Survey’s Louisiana Water Science Center in Baton Rouge.

While St. Landry Parish President Don Menard said he called his evacuation order for low-lying areas of Krotz Springs on Sunday after corps estimates predicted water would begin overflowing there by Monday, Menard now says he’s not anticipating seeing water “until probably this weekend or as late as Monday of next week.” And while originally estimated at 15 to 20 feet, Menard now said it looks like the worst flooding in Krotz Springs will be closer to 5 to 10 feet.

So a mad rush by many to evacuate homes now has many disgruntled, and those who decided to remain behind are playing a waiting game.

Evans said that while he doesn’t expect much, he’s ready for whatever comes.

“I’ve lived here too long to worry about it,” he said. “If it happens, it happens.”

When the 1973 flood rolled in, Evans said he was so nonchalant that he was out on the levee behind his home catching crawfish. The current flood has been blown out of proportion, he said, by the federal, state and local government, and the news media.

So Evans is staying put, although he did help his 82-year-old mother move to his brother’s home just outside of Baton Rouge.

And just a few houses down Dupre Road, the road’s namesake isn’t letting his age nudge him out.

Mayonce Dupré, 82, who welcomed guests with a “Comment ca va?” said the 1973 flood hit only the portion of his sweet potato, potato and corn crops closest to the levee, “and that’s it.” In the 1927 flood, his father, then living about 30 miles northwest in Grand Prairie, lost only some cotton and corn, Dupré said.

Neither he nor his father left town then, so why leave now, he reasons.

One of Dupré’s 10 children, Jean Dupré, 46, has packed up his home a block away and will drive away when water comes. But he said the decision to leave was beyond his control:

“My wife told me to.”

Back down in Butte LaRose, the Girouard brothers are hunkering down with their guns, frozen T-bone steaks, generators ready to rumble with 400 gallons of gasoline on hand.

“I’m burned out,” said older brother Tommy, 57, explaining the work they’ve done the last two weeks clearing valuables from his home. “I can’t go no more, just ready to ride it out.”

“Crank up the pit,” his younger brother Keith said, sprawled out on the deck and pointing to the barbecue grill beside him.

“And the jukebox,” added Tommy.


Benjamin Alexander-Bloch can be reached at bbloch@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3321.


Viets struggle to put lives back together, one year later

27 Apr
Foreign Lands, Familiar Words

By Mireya Navarro, April 19, 2011, New York Times
In the weeks after the oil spill, Tuan Nguyen visited 15 towns around the Gulf Coast to seek out Vietnamese fishermen whose lack of English made their sudden loss of livelihood even more daunting. By some estimates, as many as one-fourth to one-third of Louisiana’s 12,400 licensed commercial fishermen immigrated from Vietnam.

As deputy director of a nonprofit group in New Orleans serving their needs, Mr. Nguyen saw to it that as many as possible received emergency funds to buy food and pay utility bills and helped some get mental health counseling. Some were ashamed to accept handouts, he said.

The lines of dazed and worried fishermen outside his center, the Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation, are long gone. But Mr. Nguyen, 31, said his staff was still working nonstop to put lives back together. “We still see the same familiar faces,” he said, referring to men who have yet to go back to work or have trouble getting by.

Still, hardly any of them have left New Orleans so far, he said. “This is home,” said Mr. Nguyen, whose own parents arrived from Vietnam before he was born. “Everybody knows everybody.”

Few of the workers have skills beyond fishing. The center, which now handles about 400 cases, recently received money to help train some of them for land-based employment as welders, sous-chefs or micro-farmers, working small-scale farms.

Most of the Vietnamese fishermen have been dissatisfied with payments offered through a $20 billion compensation fund set up by BP, which has been accused of inconsistency on interim and final payments. Some opted for a quick, final payment of $5,000 to avoid the delays, Mr. Nguyen said, only to regret it later. “For a lot of people, it’s simply not enough,” he said.

He sees an upside nonetheless: about 200 fishermen have organized as the United Louisiana Vietnamese American Fisherfolks to work on a range of issues. “They’re not as confused or scared as they were,” Mr. Nguyen said.

Scientists Found Chemical Dispersants Lingering in Gulf Long After Oil Flow Stopped

12 Feb

by Marian Wang ProPublica, Jan. 27, 2011, 10:56 a.m.

Chemical compounds from the oil dispersants applied to the Gulf of Mexico didn’t break down as expected [1], according to a study released this week. Scientists found the compounds lingering for months in the deep waters of the Gulf, long after BP’s oil had stopped spewing.

“The results indicate that an important component of the chemical dispersant injected into the oil in the deep ocean remained there, and resisted rapid biodegradation,” said scientist David Valentine of U.C. Santa Barbara, one of the investigators in the study. Read the full report [2].

The findings contrast with what the Environmental Protection Agency has asserted about the dispersants, which the agency allowed BP to use in unprecedented quantities.

“We do have information about the individual components of the dispersant,” the EPA says on its website [3]. “The available peer-reviewed literature indicates that the components biodegrade fairly rapidly.”

The information about the components in the dispersant, it’s worth noting, was provided to the agency by the dispersant manufacturer. As we’ve pointed out [4], the EPA also relied on the manufacturer to provide data on the dispersant’s toxicity and approved it for use in the Gulf without doing independent testing.

The study’s investigators emphasized that the dispersants’ effects remain largely unknown.

“We still don’t know just how serious the threat is,” said Valentine. “The deep ocean is a sensitive ecosystem unaccustomed to chemical irruptions like this.”

In the aftermath of the spill, the EPA concluded that the use of dispersants was a “wise decision [5].” Agency scientists had reported that no dispersants [6] were detected in waters near the Gulf shore, according to McClatchy.

The research was funded by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the National Science Foundation.


Dangers of BP and Corexit, oil dispersant

22 Sep

The VGCSN is gradually contributing more to the blog, so continue to check in!

Meanwhile, here are some articles on the horrific environmental damage being done by BP as it applies the dispersant, Corexit.  The chemical is four times more dangerous than the crude oil itself.  Harking back to chain gang days, BP has hired prison inmates for the cleanup.  These workers have not been allowed to wear respirators because it would draw attention to the hazards of the chemicals.  Yet we know there are reports of workers hospitalized, people wheezing, and rashes appearing.

I heard many stories of people getting sick. I talked to the wife of a Vietnamese fisherman: “My husband has had chest problems ever since he went to work for BP,” she told me. “A lot of people are getting sick. And when the south wind blows, my asthma gets bad,” she said. In an internet café, I overheard a young man talking loudly into his cell about a blistering rash on his chest. “The doctor thinks it’s over-exposure to the chemicals,” he said.

Slow Violence in the Gulf and the BP Coverups

Uncovering the Lies that are Sinking the Oil

19 Aug

Oil Mess Leaves Gulf Vietnamese Jobless, Prey to Scams

17 Aug

By Mike Di Paola, Bloomberg, August 17, 2010

A line of jobless fishermen snakes out to the sweltering sidewalk from a small white-brick building where Boat People SOS, a Vietnamese-American advocacy group, is dispensing food vouchers.
Here in Bayou la Batre, Alabama, the BP Plc oil disaster that began in April with a rig explosion hit the area’s many Vietnamese especially hard.
There are an estimated 20,000 Vietnamese fishermen and shrimpers along the Gulf of Mexico coast.  Add related jobs such as fish processing and oyster shucking, and the displaced Boat People account for one-third to one-half of all seafood-industry workers in the Gulf region.

Fears of Cultural Extinction on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast

15 Jun

By Jordan Flaherty, Author of Floodlines

June 15, 2010–As BP’s deepwater well continues to discharge oil into the Gulf, the economic and public health effects are already being felt across coastal communities. But it’s likely this is only the beginning. From the bayous of southern Louisiana to the city of New Orleans, many fear this disaster represents not only environmental devastation but also cultural extinction for peoples who have made their lives here for generations.

This is not the first time that Louisianans have lost their communities or their lives from the actions of corporations. The land loss caused by oil companies has already displaced many who lived by the coast, and the pollution from treatment plants has poisoned communities across the state — especially in “cancer alley,” the corridor of industrial facilities along the Mississippi River south of Baton Rouge.

“The cultural losses as a consequence of the BP disaster are going to be astronomical,” says Advocates for Environmental Human Rights (AEHR) co-director Nathalie Walker. “There is no other culture like Louisiana’s coastal culture and we can only hope they wont be entirely erased.” Walker and co-director Monique Harden have made it their mission to fight the environmental consequences of Louisiana’s corporate polluters. They say this disaster represents an unparalleled catastrophe for the lives of people across the region, but they also see in it a continuation of an old pattern of oil and chemical corporations displacing people of color from their homes.

Harden and Walker point out that at least five Louisiana towns — all majority African American — have been eradicated due to corporate pollution in recent decades. The most recent is the Southwest Louisiana town of Mossville, founded by African Americans in the 1790s. Located near Lake Charles, Mossville is only 5 square miles and holds 375 households. Beginning in the 1930s, the state of Louisiana began authorizing industrial facilities to manufacture, process, store, and discharge toxic and hazardous substances within Mossville. Fourteen facilities are now located in the small town, and 91 percent of residents have reported at least one health problem related to exposure to chemicals produced by the local industry.

The southern Louisiana towns of Diamond, Morrisonville, Sunrise, and Revilletown — all founded by formerly enslaved African Americans — met similar fates. After years of chemical-related poisoning, the remaining residents have been relocated, and the corporations that drove them out now own their land. In most cases, only a cemetery remains, and former residents must pass through plant security to visit their relatives’ graves.

The town of Diamond, founded by the descendants of the participants of the 1811 Rebellion to End Slavery, the largest slave uprising in US history, was relocated by Shell in 2002, after residents had faced decades of toxic exposure. Morrisonville, established by free Africans in 1790, was bought out by Dow in 1989. Residents of Sunrise, inaugurated near Baton Rouge by former slaves in 1874, were paid to move as the result of a lawsuit against the Placid Refining Company. In the mid-1990s, Chemical producer Georgia Gulf Corporation poisoned and then acquired Revilletown, a town that recently freed Black families had started in the years after the civil war.

“We make the mistake of thinking this is something new,” says Harden. She adds that the historic treatment of these communities, as well as the lack of recovery that New Orleanians have seen since Katrina, makes her doubt the federal government will do what is necessary for Gulf recovery. “Since Obama got into office,” she says, “I have yet to see any action that reverses what Bush did after Katrina.”

Harden says Louisiana and the US must fundamentally transform our government’s relationships with corporations. “We’ve got to change the way we allow businesses to be in charge of our health and safety in this country,” she adds. As an example, Harden points to more stringent regulations in other countries, such as Norway, which requires companies to drill relief wells at the same time as any deepwater well.


Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe is a small band of French speaking Native Americans along Bayou Pointe-au-Chien, south of Houma, on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. Their ancestors settled here three hundred years ago, and current residents describe the ongoing oil geyser as just the latest step in a long history of displacement and disenfranchisement. “The oil companies never respected our elders,” explains community leader Theresa Dardar. “And they never did respect our land.”

In the early part of the 20th century, the oil companies took advantage of the fact that people living on the coast were isolated by language and distance, and laid claim to their land. Over the past several decades, these companies have devastated these idyllic communities, creating about 10,000 miles of canals through forests, marshes, and homes. “They come in, they cut a little, and it keeps getting wider and wider,” says Donald Dardar, Theresa’s husband and part of the tribe’s leadership. “They didn’t care where they cut.”

The canals have brought salt water, killing trees and plants and speeding erosion. According to Gulf Restoration Network, Louisiana loses about a football field of land every 45 minutes, and almost half of that land loss is as a result of these canals. Meanwhile, Pointe-au-Chien and other tribes have found they have little legal recourse. At least partly as a result of lobbying by oil companies, the state and federal government have refused to officially recognize them as a tribe, which would offer some protection of their land rights.

So late last month, when oil started washing up on the shores of nearby Lake Chien and fishing season was canceled before it had even begun, members of Pointe-au-Chien took the news as another nail in the coffin of the lifestyle they had been living for generations. On a recent Sunday, a few residents gathered at the Live Oak Baptist Church, on the main road that runs through their community. They described feeling abandoned and abused by the government and corporations. They spoke of losing their language and traditions in addition to their homes.

Sitting on a church pew, Theresa said they had met with indigenous natives from Alaska who discussed their experience in the aftermath of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. “We don’t know how long we’ll be without fishing,” said Theresa. “It was 17 years before they could get shrimp.” And, she noted bitterly, this disaster is already much larger than the Valdez, with no end in sight.

BP has promised payouts to those who lose work from the oil, but few trust the company to make good on their promise, and even if they did, they doubt any settlement could make up for what will be lost. “It doesn’t matter how much money they give you,” says Theresa. “If we don’t have our shrimp, fish, crabs and oysters.”

“It’s not just a way of life, its our food,” she added. “It’s the loss of our livelihood and culture.”

The anxiety that Theresa expresses is also increasingly common in New Orleans, a city whose culture is inextricably linked to the Gulf. “How do you deal with this hemorrhaging in the bottom of the Gulf that seems endless?” asks Monique Harden of AEHR. “That is just scary as hell. I’ve been having nightmares about it.”

As the oil continues to flow, people feel both helpless and apocalyptic; depressed and angered. Residents who have just rebuilt from the 2005 hurricanes watch the oil wash up on shore with a building dread. “I never thought I’d be in a situation where I wanted another Katrina,” says Harden. “But I’d rather Katrina than this.”

Loss of Land and Culture

Across the street from the church in Pointe-au-Chien is a bayou, where frustrated fishers wait on their boats hoping against all odds that they will be able to use them this season. Behind the church is more water, and a couple miles further down the road ends in swamp. Dead oak trees, rotted by salt water, rise out of the canals. Telephone poles stick out of the water, along a path where once the road continued but now the encroaching waters have taken over.

The miles of swamp and barrier islands that stood between these homes and the Gulf used to slow hurricanes, and now the entire region has become much more vulnerable. Brenda Billiot, another local resident, gestured at her family’s backyard, about a few dozen yards of grass that fades into marshes and water. “This used to be land,” she says, “as far as you could see.” Billiot’s family is still repairing their home from the 2005 flooding, including raising it up a full 19 feet above the ground. She wonders if that will be enough, if there is anything they can do to make themselves safe and hold on to their culture.

A brown rabbit hops across her backyard, and Billiot describes the dolphins and porpoises she has seen swimming nearby. Walking along the bayou here, where generations of people have lived off the land and fought to protect their territory from corporate theft, you begin to sense the gravity of what will be lost.

Theresa believes that the government and oil companies are looking for an excuse to permanently displace the tribe. She believes this latest disaster, and the upcoming hurricane season, may spell the end for their language and culture. “I tell people; if we get another hurricane, take everything you want, because I don’t think they’ll let you back in,” says Dardar. “It’s scary because I don’t know where we’re going to go.”