UPDATE: Gulf of Mexico oil spill response anticipated

May 11, 2010

Three weeks after the April 20 explosion and fire on an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, a potentially devastating domino effect from the subsequent spill is looming larger with each passing day.


A recent wind shift is slowly pushing more oil from BP's Deepwater Horizon gusher into the Mississippi Delta and areas west of the river, which is "bad news for Louisiana," Gov. Bobby Jindal said May 10.

"The chaos is around still being in crisis mode," says Florence Coppola, the UCC's executive minister for Disaster Ministries. "People are preparing for what may happen. The fish and shrimp industries have shut down, of course, but this is going to have a huge economic impact on the people recovering from Hurricane Katrina just five years ago."

Coppola is attending the three-day, annual National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) Conference beginning today in Orlando, Fla. NVOAD is a forum in which organizations share knowledge and resources throughout the disaster cycle — preparation, response and recovery — to help disaster survivors and their communities.

Louisiana has been mostly spared since the oil rig exploded and sank two days later about 50 miles off the southeast coast of Louisiana. The blowout is sending 210,000 gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico each day. Most of the slick has been centered in an area east of the environmentally sensitive delta.

On May 7, BP lowered a massive containment vessel over the well to cap the larger of two leak points. But that plan was thwarted Saturday after ice-like hydrate crystals formed when gas combined with water blocked the top of the dome.

Authorities fear that the expanding slick could come ashore at any time to destroy sensitive wetlands vital for the huge fishing industry and other resources. Thirteen staging areas, from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle, are in place and ready to protect sensitive shorelines.

"The UCC is looking toward what will be the unmet needs of people down the road," says Coppola.

 photo: US Coast Guard

"We have offered the possibility of protection equipment that we would normally send – Tyvek suits, chemical splash goggles and Nitrile gloves." However, Coppola cautions, the nature of the emergency may require other resources.

"I have offered chaplains better trained in disaster ministries, but at this point, people are afraid. They don't know where to turn," says Coppola, noting that people in coastal areas are already inhaling fumes. "The people there are listening to a corporation tell them there will be some funds. But that's probably going to be very short-term. It's all speculation at the moment."

BP has accepted responsibility for the spill and says it will cover the cost of the response and cleanup.

Exacerbating the potentially disastrous financial impact of the spill is that no federal funding is available to help businesses. "The corporation is responsible for any liability," says Coppola. "That means there is no FEMA money coming forward. And it's not just the fishing industry. It's the processing plants, the restaurants, the grocery stores, way down the line. It's just huge in terms of economics and in terms of spiritual care."

Coppola participated in two teleconferences May 3 – one with state VOAD representatives from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The second call was solely with the Louisiana VOAD. "They are very focused on wildlife," says Coppola, "but they haven't focused on the fact that BP is not going to be responsible for everybody."

An estimated 20,000 volunteers from the Gulf region are being trained to assist with cleanup and wildlife management, says Coppola.

If  the slick spreads east toward Florida, the potential impact on the tourist industry will be another grave concern. "We're not just talking about the people going to the beach," says Coppola, "but also the people who own the shops and the hotels because the tourists won't be there."

Phone numbers for local residents who wish to assist environmental groups are as follows: To report oiled or injured wildlife, call 800-557-1401; to discuss spill-related damage claims, call 800-440-0858; to report oil on land, or for general Community and Volunteer Information, call 866-448-5816.

Gifts to aid in recovery efforts may be made in the form of checks to Wider Church Ministries. Gifts may be sent to: UCC Financial Services, Wider Church Ministries, 700 Prospect Ave., Cleveland, OH 44115. Please note in the memo portion of the check "OGHS special fund Emergency USA: 2010 Gulf Oil Spill 

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