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Jumping from ‘The Storm’ into Oil Slick

When they talk among themselves they simply refer to Hurricane Katrina as “the storm.”

In the Mississippi town of D’Iberville, where seafood processing facilities fell under as much as 28 feet of Katrina storm surge, the last thing anybody wants to deal with is the BP oil spill now only a few miles from its coastline.

diberville.jpgBut if they must deal with it, they will.  They are ready with human power and equipment to clean up their beaches and they do not really care what BP thinks about it.

The storm taught this city of about 7,600 that if something bad happens, you are on your own.   That does not mean that Mayor Russell “Rusty” Quave is not doing everything he can to be tied into emergency management coming from the state capitol in Jackson.

But, last night the Mayor had to close down a meeting that had the makings of a mini riot.  Upwards of 200 fishermen with nothing but time on their hands now decided to hold an emergency meeting on their own at the local VFW Hall.  They were angry about reports that clean up jobs were going to people from out of state.

D’Iberville police sent everyone home and the mayor is working on re-scheduling it to a bigger venue with state and federal officials in attendance to answer questions.   He’d like to get somebody from BP to that meeting too.

Unlike during a hurricane, when official information is issued every three hours, D’Iberville has been left to figure out what’s going to happen pretty much on its own.  That, however, does not really surprise anyone here after Katrina.

D’Iberville was left for days after the storm with not so much as a wink and nod from anyone in the Federal Emergency Management Agency or even the State of Mississippi.  The town north of the better-known Biloxi was left to recover on its own.

That effort, now known as the D’Iberville Volunteer Foundation, got the town through the days after the storm.  E.W. “Ed” Cake, Jr., a marine and oyster biologist, and Irene McIntosh, an associate professor of counselor education and supervision at the University of South Alabama, led the community volunteers.

McIntosh says they were feeding upwards of 1,000 a day, getting food by hook and by crook.  The Copeland’s of New Orleans refrigerated warehouse lost power, and D’Iberville took possession of enough red beans and rice to feed the whole town.

Ironically, McIntosh says the first outside officials the town saw were two Kentucky restaurant inspectors on loan to FEMA who were there to inspect the town’s food operation.   They passed with flying colors.

Cut off by a bridge closure from Biloxi’s hospital, D’Iberville also set up a medical clinic staffed by out of state physician volunteers.   They were seeing as many as 150 people a day.

McIntosh says BP does not understand Gulf communities like D’Iberville.   She says Gulf communities were rebuilt with a new environmental consciousness.  They are not going to sit back and lose what has taken them the last five years to accomplish.

With a history dating back to 1699 when Pierre LeMoyne, Sieur d’Iberville anchored off the Mississippi Gulf Coast while looking for the mouth of the Mississippi River, the town moved from recovery to some robust growth.

It rises from the north shore of the Back Bay, an area where Katrina storm surges reached 28 feet, to higher ground to the north.  The area, with freeway access, is drawing real estate investments.

State officials told Gulf cities they’d be able to give a 72-hour warning on when the two million gallons of BP oil might begin rolling across their beaches.  The light crude oil was impacting the Gulf’s barrier islands, meaning the spill is as close as 20 to 25 miles to land.

When it does strike land, D’Iberville will be ready.

© Food Safety News