Video: 100 days of catastrophe in the Gulf

  1. Transcript of: 100 days of catastrophe in the Gulf

    NATALIE MORALES, anchor: Today marks 100 days since the oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico killing 11 workers and triggering the worst oil spill in US history . NBC 's Anne Thompson is in Venice , Louisiana , covering the cleanup. Good morning again, Anne .

    ANNE THOMPSON reporting: Good morning, Natalie . On the 100th day of this catastrophe, families who made their livings off these waters are still out of work. The oil is still washing ashore and the cleanup is still slow, hot and tedious work. There is fresh oil on this sandbar west of South Pass near the mouth of the Mississippi River , a new onslaught stirred up by the winds of the one-time Tropical Storm Bonnie .

    Ms. TRACY GIRARD (US Geological Survey): It's more of a liquid form than it was. Before it was a pretty solid tar balls coming in, and now it's more of a -- like a patty.

    THOMPSON: The oil is an elusive foe, playing hide-and-seek in the gulf currents, and it is breaking up, making it harder to spot from the air and more time consuming to clean on the sand. Though no new oil has spewed from the troubled well for some 12 days, charter boat captain-turned-oil spotter Mike Frenette says there is plenty still in the gulf.

    Mr. MIKE FRENETTE: It just doesn't disappear. It's down below, the currents are working it, and depending on the currents and the wave action it's going to pop up in places. And I don't know how long it's going to do that, but it's going to be quite some time.

    THOMPSON: The economic pain of the spill is evident in this long line of families waiting for free boxes of food and personal care items from Feed the Children .

    Unidentified Man: No matter what they do, it'll never get back to what it was before. I mean, that life there, you could say is completely gone.

    THOMPSON: Meanwhile, work continues out at the source of the spill and BP says it hopes to intersect that troubled well in two weeks. Natalie :

    MORALES: Anne Thompson reporting again for us in Venice , Louisiana . Thank you, Anne .

By
updated 7/28/2010 10:25:15 AM ET 2010-07-28T14:25:15

A hundred days ago, shop owner Cherie Pete was getting ready for a busy summer serving ice cream and po-boy sandwiches to hungry fishermen. Local official Billy Nungesser was planning his wedding. Environmental activist Enid Sisskin was preparing a speech about the dangers of offshore drilling.

Then the oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded off the coast of Louisiana, and in an instant, life along the Gulf Coast changed for good.

Pete spends her days worrying that the fishing industry may never recover. Nungesser has put his wedding on hold while he sits in meetings and argues with federal officials. And Sisskin continues to talk about the dangers of drilling — only now, people are listening.

The 100 days since the April 20 explosion have been a gut-wrenching time for folks who work, play and live along the Gulf Coast. The Gulf is a sanctuary for some, an employer for others, and now, a tragedy.

These are their stories.

The Restaurant Owners
A hundred days ago, business was booming at Barrios Seafood Restaurant in Golden Meadow, Louisiana, during Lent, when many of the Roman Catholics in south Louisiana forgo meat. Customers were lined up for meals of crab, shrimp, fish and other seafood delivered hours after being pulled from the Gulf.

Alicia and Thomas Barrios believed their years of struggling to get the business going were finally paying off.

"We were saying, 'If business is this good now, just think what it will be like in the summer,'" Alicia Barrios said. "It was more money than we had ever made before in our lives."

They began sprucing up the restaurant, even adding a patio with visions of customers lingering there this summer. Then the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and the oil began filling the Gulf.

"I'd say about 50 percent of our business was tourist, and they stopped coming immediately," Alicia said. "Seafood got hard to get, the price went up and people are worried about eating it."

These days, Thomas Barrios is working in the Vessels of Opportunity program, helping BP clean up the spill. Alicia Barrios has had to lay off two of her employees and the adjacent market is only open only two days a week.

She's also thinking about how to change the menu if the price of seafood keeps going up and it remains scarce.

"I guess we could start serving pasta and hamburgers," she said. "But I'm afraid to spend the money on a new sign and menus. To be honest, if it wasn't for the BP check, we'd already be closed."

The Sandwich Maker
A hundred days ago, Cherie Pete and her husband, Alfred, were expecting another steady stream of customers at the little store they used her life savings to build on the main road to Venice, Louisiana.

Everyone in town calls the 45-year-old mother of three "Maw" anyway, so she decided to name the place Maw's Sandwich and Snack Shop.

The store opened last year, attracting a devoted group of locals who came for po-boys and ice cream, plus weekenders who showed up from New Orleans in droves to rent campsites and charter fishing trips.

"And all of a sudden, we don't have them coming in," she said.

She's still doing decent business, still working 14 hour days, but it's not the same. Now most of her customers are contractors and cleanup workers.

"We've met people from all over the country, but it's not happy meetings. It's people coming in for work," she said. "It's not a typical exciting day at work for me any more, it's just another day at work."

Pete knows the business won't last when the cleanup ends.

"I'm just afraid the bottom is going to fall out," she says. "I'm not sure when. You don't know if it's today, or tomorrow or five years from now."

The Seafood Broker
A hundred days ago, Darlene Kimball was getting ready for a busy summer at her family's docks in Pass Christian, Mississippi, waiting for the buyers who would snap up hundreds of pounds of shrimp from the backs of boats, loading them into ice chests and hauling them back to giant freezers.

Now the place is empty, and the only boats she sees are the ones used by BP contractors cleaning up the spill.

Kimball's family has been in the Mississippi seafood industry since 1930, and she's never wanted to do anything else. But recently the 43-year-old had to do the unthinkable — draft a resume so she could look for another line of work.

"Everything's different," she said. "My life has gone from a fast-paced to nothing."

She misses the excitement of fishermen calling from the water announcing their latest haul, the awkward tourists trying to negotiate with boat captains for a piece of the catch. Most of all, maybe, she misses the sound of the seagulls circling the boats long before they come into town.

"There's nothing around me," she said. "My culture is gone, my livelihood is gone. What my grandfather and father have worked so hard to accomplish is in jeopardy."

The Activist
A hundred days ago, Florida environmental activist Enid Sisskin was scanning through oil spill data from the Minerals Management Service, preparing a speech on the dangers of offshore drilling.

Then the rig exploded, and she ended up rewriting the entire thing. She even told a halfhearted joke, about how future discussions of offshore drilling would have to begin with "a noun, a verb and the words Deepwater Horizon."

But Sisskin, who teaches in the public health program at University of West Florida, hasn't laughed much these past 100 days. She lives in the coastal community of Gulf Breeze and has long been a vocal opponent of Gulf drilling rigs.

"There's a constant knot in the pit of my stomach," she said. "I'm afraid for the future. Are we going to come back? Are our waters going to be clean enough? Are we going to have the sea birds? Can we comfortably say to tourists, come on down and get in the water and eat the fish?"

She's been busy this summer, teaching classes and giving talks to groups on the effects of oil and dispersants on public health.

There is one thing she doesn't say in her speeches: I told you so.

"This is something I never ever wanted to be able to say," she said. "It's vindication, but what a horrible way to be vindicated."

The Tourism Mogul
A hundred days ago, Frank Besson was raking in money at the tourism empire he's built on Grand Isle, a spit of land along the coast where vacationers have flocked for decades. What started with his father's souvenir shop expanded to a daiquiri bar across the street and a restaurant next door.

On a good day, he used to make $1,600. The shop's take last Saturday, when the island hosted a benefit concert? A measly $28.18, he says, pointing to the day's receipt.

His little monopoly is in shambles these days. The restaurant, known for a homemade pecan glaze that's perfect for chicken fingers, is closed indefinitely. The daiquiri bar opens late each night to a trickle of customers. And most days you can find Besson inside his locked souvenir shop, watching a tiny TV.

The only thing that's keeping the business afloat, he said ruefully, is that BP leased two of his rental homes and signed a catering contract with his shuttered restaurant.

Besson, 61, is still optimistic that business will turn around and he'll be able to reopen his restaurant. But for now, he's found himself in an unusual position. He's actually hoping for a storm.

"We want some rough weather so we can disperse and dissolve some of that stuff," he said. "I hate to say it, and I never thought I would say that, but that's what we want."

The Local Official
A hundred days ago, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser was busy with blueprints of fire stations, schools and community centers damaged during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and still in need of rebuilding. He was planning his wedding to his longtime fiance, which they postponed after the storm.

"I had a life," Nungesser says.

Now, his life looks like this: Endless meetings with the Coast Guard. Endless arguments with federal officials and BP workers. And countless media appearances — he's been on Anderson Cooper's CNN show so often alongside fellow Cajun James Carville that the trio are like the holy trinity of nighttime cable TV.

The new fire stations, schools and community centers have been put on hold. He's seen his mother twice in the past few months — and she lives right in the coastal Louisiana parish. And then there's the matter of the wedding. That's not happening anytime soon, not until life calms down and the fight is over.

For now, he's got a war to wage. That's how he characterizes his region's fight against BP, the federal government, the oil.

"A hundred days later, I can't look you in the eye and tell you who's in charge," he said. "I would not want to go to war with this team. Looking back, it's very sad that a lot of marshes and wildlife could have been saved if the federal government and BP had just listened to local people."

The Priest
A hundred days ago, the Rev. Mike Tran was busy ministering to his flock at the lone Catholic church on Grand Isle.

When he was first assigned, he dragged his feet. It was too small, too isolated and there was too little to do. Boy was he wrong.

He arrived in July 2005, weeks before Hurricane Katrina demolished much of the island. Parishioners at Our Lady of the Isle weathered that storm and the others that followed, but the spill has presented a new challenge. It threatens their way of life.

Church attendance has been cut in half. Weekly donations are down $1,000. Yet more people than ever are walking up the stilted church's stairs to seek food and money.

The morning after the rig explosion, Tran held a mass to honor the 11 victims. Most church members hadn't even heard the news.

The last three months have been a whirlwind of prayer, charity and counseling.

"People are constantly in fear," he said. "They like to work, not to rely on a business for help. They were able to go out on the Gulf whenever they wanted to feed their families. They were living a worry-free life, knowing that the Gulf would provide."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Month 4

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  1. The Blue Dolphin, left, and the HOS Centerline, the ships supplying the mud for the static kill operation on the Helix Q4000, are seen delivering mud through hoses at the site of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana, on Aug. 3, 2010. In the background is the Development Driller III, which is drilling the primary relief well. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Eddie Forsythe and Don Rorabough dump a box of blue crabs onto a sorting table at B.K. Seafood in Yscloskey, La., on Aug. 3, 2010. The crabs were caught by fisherman Garet Mones. Commercial and recreational fishing has resumed, with some restrictions in areas that were closed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Chuck Cook / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Sea turtle hatchlings that emerged from eggs gathered on the northern Gulf Coast of Florida are released at Playalinda Beach on the Canaveral National Seashore near Titusville, Fla., on Aug. 2, 2010. The sea turtles were born at a Kennedy Space Center incubation site, where thousands of eggs collected from Florida and Alabama beaches along the Gulf of Mexico have been sent. (Craig Rubadoux / Florida Today via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A crab, covered with oil, walks along an oil absorbent boom near roso-cane reeds at the South Pass of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana on Aug. 1, 2010. BP is testing the well to see if it can withstand a "static kill" which would close the well permanently. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A boat motors through a sunset oil sheen off East Grand Terre Island, where the Gulf of Mexico meets Barataria Bay on the La. coast, on the evening of July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Oil approaches a line of barges and boom positioned to protect East Grand Terre Island, partially seen at top right, on July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is seen near an unprotected island in the Gulf of Mexico near Timbalier Bay, off the coast of Louisiana on Wednesday, July 28. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Greenpeace activists stand outside a BP gas station in London, England, on July 27 after they put up a fence to cut off access. Several dozen BP stations in London were temporarily shut down to protest the Gulf spill. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. James Wilson sells T-shirts to those arriving in Grand Isle, La., for the music festival Island Aid 2010 on July 24. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Activists covered in food coloring made to look like oil protest BP's Gulf oil spill in Mexico City on July 22. The sign at far left reads in Spanish "Petroleum kills animals." (Alexandre Meneghini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. People in Lafayette, La., wear "Keep Drilling" tee shirts at the "Rally for Economic Survival" opposing the federal ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, July 21. Supporters at the rally want President Obama to lift the moratorium immediately to protect Louisiana's jobs and economy. (Ann Heisenfelt / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A flock of white ibis lift off from marsh grass on Dry Bread Island in St. Bernard Parish, La., July 21. Crews found about 130 dead birds and 15 live birds affected by oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on July 19 in the eastern part of the parish behind the Chandeleur Islands. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the BP Oil Spill Victim Compensation Fund testifies during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on July 21 in Washington, D.C. The hearing was to examine the claim process for victims of the Gulf Coast oil spill. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An American white pelican has its wings checked during a physical examination at Brookfield Zoo’s Animal Hospital by Michael Adkesson and Michael O’Neill on July 21. The bird, along with four other pelicans, was rescued from the Gulf Coast oil spill and will be placed on permanent exhibit at the zoo. (Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Native people of the Gwich'in Nation form a human banner on the banks of the Porcupine River near Ft. Yukon, Alaska July 21, in regard to the BP oil spill with a message to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil development. The images include a Porcupine caribou antler and a threatened Yukon River Salmon. (Camila Roy / Spectral Q via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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Map: Gulf oil spill trajectory

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