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Impact on coastal residents eyed

Disaster response organizations plan how to help people who depend on fishing, coastal activities cope with oil spill


"These are the very same people who are only just recovering from Hurricane Katrina which occurred almost five years ago"

—United Church of Christ National Disaster Ministries

As damage assessment of what may be the worst U.S. oil spill in history continues, disaster response organizations are preparing to assist those who are most impacted by the economic consequences of the disaster.

The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that about 1.6 million gallons of oil have spilled since the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers.

The spill is more than 130 miles long and 70 miles wide, and has the potential of eclipsing the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, when an oil tanker spilled 11 million gallons off Alaska's coastline.

The United Church of Christ National Disaster Ministries (UCC), which has specialized in technology-caused disasters for last decade, says it is preparing to assist in an ecumenical response with unmet needs as it is identified in the coming weeks.

A statement on the UCC Website talks of the expected impact the disaster will have on wildlife and those who earn a living fishing the coastal waters. “These are the very same people who are only just recovering from Hurricane Katrina which occurred almost five years ago,” the statement explained.

Scott Sundberg, Director of Communications for the Mennonite Disaster Service says that at this stage of the disaster calls for environmental expert analysis and assessment.

“We are monitoring the situation, especially since we have friends and clients – people whose homes we have worked on who are directly affected by this disaster…On behalf of the communities affected by this spill, MDS is calling for prayers on the affected community and as we monitor the developing disaster,” said Sundberg.

In Louisiana, Mennonite Disaster Service project director, Mike Wilson says that he observed local boat owners approaching government officials asking, “What can we be doing?” in hopes lending their help to disaster relief.

“The air was so thick with the smoke from the burning oil that I couldn’t stay outside, and I was 100 miles from where it was burning. People aren’t sure what is happening, and how it will affect their livelihoods,” said Wilson.

After meeting with officials in the Gulf Coast, Director of Lutheran Disaster Response, the Rev. Kevin A. Massey, says that volunteers have not been asked to step in and help just yet.

“At this time, your prayers are requested for all those who may be affected. Please pray for the people of Louisiana and the other Gulf Coast states. Please pray for the pastors and people . . .in these areas as they minister to their neighbors, especially those in places still working to recover from Hurricane Katrina,” said Massey.

Massey says that the organization will continue to monitor the effects of the oil spill and will share ways with its congregation on how they can minister together among those affected by this event

The spill threatens hundreds of species of wildlife, including birds, dolphins, and the fish, shrimp, oysters and crabs that make the Gulf Coast one of the nation's most abundant sources of seafood.

The oil most recently reached the Louisiana shoreline. Because of the risk of oil contamination, the state has closed some fishing grounds and oyster beds.

Experts at the Environmental Protection Agency have already taken many measures to contain the disaster.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said that they have established air monitoring stations along Plaquemines Parish on the Louisiana coast. EPA established those facilities to determine how oil set on fire in the Gulf and oil that is reaching land is impacting air quality.

In addition to monitoring air quality, EPA deployed their aircraft to assess coastal waters by collecting air samples and photographing the spill.

“We are taking every possible step to protect the health of the residents and mitigate the environmental impacts of this spill. For several days, EPA has been on the ground evaluating air and water concerns and coordinating with other responding agencies.” Jackson said.

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