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Category Archives: gulf coast

Last summer in Gulfport, MS the 4th of July preparation was different than any year before. The smells of barbeque, fireworks and ocean water that filled the air were mixed with the smell of oil. Planet Harmony's Tuskee Barnes brings tells of her family's experience.

Tuskee Barnes: The Gulf Coast Oil Spill changed lives forever. My city was still recovering from the damages left by Hurricane Katrina, when a new wave of concerns over the area’s health and jobs washed on our shores. It took the form of approximately 3.3 million barrels of oil erupting from the BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

At the time, I was in Florida at school. Hearing the news worried me, but the phone calls from family and friends about the setback were the real dagger to the back. I traveled to Gulfport, MS on July 3, 2010. Most of my family lives close to the beach. The smell was the fist thing I noticed. As I approached the beach, I was overwhelmed by the smell of oil. My throat grew tighter the closer I got, and I started to feel faint. Even worse was the thought of my family inhaling this everyday.


Clean-up efforts in Gulfport, MS nearly 1 year ago. (Photo by Goesfast.com)

It wasn’t long before my worries were being seen in sick people along the Coast. Residents reported symptoms such as coughing, vomiting, chest pains and other respiratory issues due to the exposure to the toxins. One of my aunts complained about headaches she started to experience a few weeks after the spill. She mentioned they weren't severe, but happened often for a few months. My aunt wasn't alone, according to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, more than 300 people had to seek medical attention for their headaches, chest pains, and dizziness.

My family also faced financial stress. My brother qualified for a job as one of the cleanup crew members. The salary offered 12-18 dollars an hour. Many locals jumped at the opportunity, some even left their jobs to work for BP. My brother decided to keep his. After about two months, the locals were replaced by out of town service workers.

A year ago I was shocked to find oil washing upon the shores. memory of last year.  I saw cleanup crews line up bags filled with oily sand for miles down the beaches.I saw a young girl kick up the black, oily sand. Her mother just laughed and told her not to do that.

Today, dark oil still lingers in the beach at Gulfport.  But the smell of oil has subsided.

Tuskee 3.mp3 1.9 MB

Vicki Smith from the Grio posted an article about the Demolle family in Pointe a la Hache, Louisiana.  They’re one of the many families on the Mississippi River Delta that lived off the once plentiful, healthy and delicious fish from the river.  But since the Deep Water Horizon oil leak has hemorrhaged millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, aquatic life has been chocked from their long-fished waters. The families that once lived off these shores now depend on on BP’s compensation checks and charity food. What I love about this article is it shows just how deeply connected we all are to the environment.    
When talking about environmental justice particularly for the black community, it’s a popular question:  "Why don’t more black people get involved in environmental issues?"  The answer is usually one of two: "They have other things to worry about like paying next month’s rent and putting food on the table." Or, "Oh, they’re just not educated enough to understand why they should care."  Both of these answers may be true in part.  But this story is a perfect example of where blacks communities lack fiscal stability or education that we assume are necessary for environmental consciousness.  Even here, the intimate connections to the land are profound.    
The Point a la Hache community and the hundreds of other fishing communities are stewards by necessity, not by option. And it’s these communities that are the first to suffer when the land is spoiled. Now that their relationship with the abundant shores has been severed, gone are the days of locally harvested shrimp, crabs, oysters, and fish.  Now it’s charity given peanut butter and jelly, beans, rice, and cheap "grind meats" like the hot dog and hamburger. 
Check out Vicki Smith’s article here

Photo courtesy of cccpublishing.com