NEWS

Locals know hope is gone at oil-coated beaches in Alabama and Florida

Carlene Peterson

Finger-crossing is passé at Perdido now.

The hope was dashed Monday, June 14, that what happened in Louisiana would stay in Louisiana as brackish oil stormed the shores. BP hires combed the beaches, vastly outnumbering any vacationers who dared to ignore the ominous warnings at the beaches along Perdido Key and Gulf Shores.

Some workers carried shovels, dragging bags of oil plugs and sand. Others pulled glorified vacuums the size of a man, sucking up oil pools that had gathered.

Some people still bent on pursuing their vacations hauled their towels down to the beach, but the locals watched their nightmare unfold from afar.

“They’re cleaning it up as it comes in, but there’s more out there,” said Jan Young, of Foley, Ala.

Smell of oil

Through it all, the unabashed stench of oil flooded the nostrils of everyone present.

Hauling a skull-topped sign that read “Welcome to death beach,” Young said the smell wasn’t limited to the beach.

“I live eight miles up,” she said. “But we were smelling oil and getting sick to our stomachs.”

Dale Peoples, of Orange Beach, Ala., said the raw smell got to him the most.

“The stench of oil brings tears to our eyes,” he said. “But it’s not because it’s that bad — it’s the hearts of the people who live here, who breathe this air and fish this water.”

Looking for a clean beach

Prior to her trip to Gulf State Park Pier, partly to assess the damage, but also to loudly and clearly express her fury at those responsible for the spill, Young had been in Panama City.

“We drove 100 miles from the Gulf Shores — my beach — to Panama City to look at a clean beach,” she said. “Hopefully not for the last time in my life.”

As for the tourists, she feels sorry. She’s also sorry there aren’t enough of them. Parking should be at a premium all along Gulf Shores, including the parking lot where Young made her stand Monday. But there was plenty to go around. The scattered beach-goers dodging cleanup crews and equipment mostly stayed out of the water.

“Everybody’s lining the beach but won’t put a toe in,” Young said.

Quick cleanup

And the theories about cleanup efforts are flying. Young is convinced sea-bound cleanup crews are hauling in loads of dead animals — turtles, birds, fish and dolphins.

There’s no sign of any oiled wildlife on the shores – just blackened plants and patches of oil here and there.

“Their main goal is to scoop up the thousands of dead animals before they wash ashore,” Young said. “They don’t want people to see it.

“Where’s the dead fish? Are they smart enough to get away?”

Double red flags at beaches

Double red flags flew Monday at many of the beaches along the Alabama and Florida coasts, a signal the water was unsafe. Signs hung along beach entrances warning people not to go in the water. Many of those who wouldn’t heed the warnings came out with a thin sheen of oil that needed to be scrubbed off.

Some complained there wasn’t Dawn detergent at the rinsing stations.

Rarely has Young seen the double reds out.

“Those flags need to be flying at half-mast,” she said. “It’s like 9/11, Katrina — everything balled into one.

“It’s all out there, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Young is hoping things get better but assuming the worst. BP crews descend on the beach with such ferocity when the oil hits, it’s hard to get a grip on just how bad the situation is. Despite their early efforts, Young predicts more oil on the way.

“They’re not just going to be cleaning up oily birds,” she said. “We’re going to be cleaning up oily people before long.”

Won’t eat the fish

Patricia Chamber, of Orange Beach, Ala., was praying her beach and the people who make livelihoods off of it would survive the oil. The smell of the oil wasn’t enough to drive her away on Monday, but every time the breeze shifted, she felt it.

“Poor Louisiana,” she said. “They’re dead. We’d like to be positive, but we’re just waiting to see.”

Young had hoped the troubles in Louisiana wouldn’t find their way to Alabama and Florida, but the crunchy seaweed she’s recently observed confirmed her fears.

You can set fire to it, she said. It’s not a good sign for people accustomed to playing in the sea and dining on its inhabitants.

“We’re afraid to eat the fish. We’ve sworn off seafood,” she said. “Today we’re getting steaks. Thank God cows don’t grow in the Gulf.”

Editor Carlene Peterson is reporting on the Gulf oil spill for GateHouse News Service. You can reach her at cpeterson@mysuburbanlife.com.