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7 DAYS IN THE LIFE OF A CATASTROPHE
GARY SMITH
July 05, 2010
THE AUTHOR SPENT A WEEK IN LOUISIANA REPORTING ON THE GREAT GULF OIL SPILL OF 2010. HE WAS LOOKING FOR A SPORTS STORY, BUT HE FOUND MUCH MORE
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July 05, 2010

7 Days In The Life Of A Catastrophe

THE AUTHOR SPENT A WEEK IN LOUISIANA REPORTING ON THE GREAT GULF OIL SPILL OF 2010. HE WAS LOOKING FOR A SPORTS STORY, BUT HE FOUND MUCH MORE

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Kerry Sanders, the NBC correspondent, wanted more. "Look over your shoulder," Sanders ordered Dudley, camera rolling. "What do you see?"

"It's devastating ... it's very emotional."

Not enough. "Can we see it on your hands," demanded Sanders, "and can you tell us what it is?"

Dudley, on a contrition mission, scooped up the goo and gave NBC its money shot, blood on his hands. "This is oil from right here," he recited dully.

Not enough. From the railing of a boat that the group had climbed aboard, CBS's Harry Smith pointed to a phalanx of orange, fist-sized tar balls. "This is your oil," declared Harry. "Do you feel guilty?"

Dudley, hangdog but litigation-leery: "I just feel sad."

Sorrow without money means nothing anymore, of course, so Dudley stepped dutifully in front of a media mob back at Grand Isle's community center and pledged $360 million to build six sand berms along Louisiana's barrier islands, to keep more crude from reaching the wetlands. At his sides he was still trying to get the oil off his hands.

Jindal bounced back to the microphone for a second go-round, shouting, "We're in a war! Sean Payton gets it! Drew Brees gets it! Reggie Bush gets it!"

A gust of relief went through me. It did have something to do with sports.

DAY 5: Bring on the Saints. Bring on the marching band. Bring on the NFC championship trophy and the Lombardi Trophy and the two military guards with white gloves standing sentry over them. They all came the next day to rally the oil refugees at Fort Jackson, in Plaquemines Parish. Men like Daniel Bourgeois, who'd spent the first two months of the crisis reporting to his boat every morning and staring into nothingness for hours, a shrimper for 44 years who'd grown up without electricity or running water and now feared he was going to die that way. He, like many fishermen, was about to sign on with BP to join the cleanup, and he, like all of them, was appalled at the thought of a moratorium on drilling because it would wipe out the other half of the local economy. He, like almost everyone else here, was now dependent for subsistence on the very company that was choking them. They were grateful to the Saints and to sports for giving them a few hours to forget all that, and they sent up a howl that drowned out Jindal's speech about the monster in the Gulf. The governor gave up, surrendered the microphone to the quarterback, but just as Brees opened his mouth the mike went dead. A hush fell over all. "It's the oil!" hooted a lady.

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