- An estimated 190,000 barrels, or nearly 8 million gallons of oil spilled into Louisiana's waterways — and into some of its neighborhoods.
- A pair of storage tanks at a Bass Enterprises South facility ruptured, spilling 3.78 million gallons of crude in nearby Plaquemines Parish.
Jennifer Brooks, Gannett News Service
CHALMETTE, La. — The neighborhoods of St. Bernard Parish reek of oil. More than a month after Hurricane Katrina, environmental workers are still struggling to clean up the 50 oil spills along the Gulf Coast. An estimated 190,000 barrels, or nearly 8 million gallons of oil spilled into Louisiana's waterways — and into some of its neighborhoods. For blocks in every direction around the Murphy Oil Corp. facility in Meraux, houses — as many as a thousand of them, according to environmental officials — are marked by dark brown oily bands, where the receding floodwaters mixed with 1.4 million gallons of oil that spilled from a holding tank and into suburban streets and canals.
"It's all oil. You're never going to get that clean," said Sheppard Bowman, who worked at Murphy and lived just a five-minute walk away in Chalmette.
During the storm surge that hit the low-lying parish southeast of New Orleans, water rose to the rafters of the family's one-bedroom bungalow home. Everything below knee level was soaked in oil — thick, viscous, smelly oil that stings the skin and clings to every surface it touches.
It was the last straw for Bowman, his wife Cheryl and their children Eugene, 8, and Emily, 6. The couple pulled a few treasures that had stayed dry in the attic and loaded their truck, ready to settle permanently in Pensacola, Fla., where they had evacuated and where the children are already settled in school.
"We're going to go ahead and start life again," Cheryl Bowman said. "The water wouldn't have been so bad, but the oil is too much."
The oil company took out full-page ads in local newspapers last week, pledging $5 million to help St. Bernard Parish recover from the spill. Some 648,396 gallons of oil have been recovered already and the company's cleanup crews were out Saturday, deploying skimmers in the neighborhood canals, trying to recover even more.
The Bowman's street, Jacob Drive, was covered with sand to prevent cars from skidding on the oil. Cars and trucks had been tossed around yards like tinker toys by the flood surge. The sidewalks were buried beneath a thick crackle-glaze of oil and silt. The grass was dead and the trees were dying.
Down the street, Ray Abney sat in his driveway and cried over the grave he'd just dug for his cat. He'd been clearing debris from his home for three days before coming across the cat, which had been left behind in the rush when his ex-wife evacuated their children. Through the open door of his home, an American flag was peeling slowly away from the mold-covered walls, above a mirror engraved with the greeting, "Home Sweet Home."
"The oil, it just gets into everything," said Abney, a bartender who has no idea what he will do or where he will go next. His collections of rare coins and paper money and his family's genealogy records were all soaked with water and oil.
The Murphy spill wasn't the largest in the state. A pair of storage tanks at a Bass Enterprises South facility ruptured, spilling 3.78 million gallons of crude in nearby Plaquemines Parish.
On Thursday, the Coast Guard reported that most of the spills have been contained and the cleanup efforts are well underway. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality are in the process of collecting and testing soil and water samples from the contaminated areas.
Until test results come in, Richard Greene, EPA administrator for Louisiana, advised the public to take precautions before they came in contact with the polluted soil and residue. Residents have been advised to cover exposed skin and wear heavy boots, gloves and breathing masks before entering their homes.
"It's a matter of common sense in most cases," he said. "If the soil is black, brown and oily, it's petroleum sediment and you should avoid making contact with it."