Monday, June 14, 2010

Oil leaves bayou communities in distress







Oil leaves bayou communities in distress

Emily Schwarze/Staff
Sibling crabbers Carla Ghere (from left), Carolyn Tillman, Johnathan Tillman and Steven Tillman, 14, pose Saturday on Carla’s boat, the “Family Tradition,” with Carolyn’s sons Kaleb, 3, and Landon, 1, in Chauvin.
Published: Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 12:53 a.m.
HOUMA — Arthur Eschete, owner of Sea-Go Seafood in Houma, is flying his flag upside down these days. On the open seas, he says, it’s a traditional way to signal to passing vessels that you’re in distress.

Like many others affected by the spill, Eschete can talk at length about his fears and stresses. There are worries grounded in everyday life, like how water closures linked to the Gulf oil spill affect his seafood business, finances and family.
But other things weigh on his mind too. He used to work in the oil-and-gas industry, and he fears what the ban will do to the local economy, and what a crippled economy will do to life on the bayou, where his family has lived for 250 years.
“No one knows where we’re at right now, and that’s the scary thing,” Eschete said. “I’m 65 years old, and this is the first time in our lifetime that me and my wife have no idea what’s going to be down the road in 2 to 3 years.
“I try to look at what could happen to turn it around, but all you have to do is go on the Internet and look at those dead birds and dead dolphins — how can we just bounce back to where it doesn’t devastate us for a decade? ... The future is very grim.”
Just like oiled waters and marshes, the anger and fears caused by the spill have the potential to poison the mental health of the people affected. Family distress and drug and alcohol abuse could be some of the human symptoms of the spill.
The state Department of Health and Hospitals and Catholic Charities of Houma-Thibodaux have dispatched counselors to the Dulac and Larose community centers. And they have gone door to door in bayou communities to try and help locals cope with job loss, fear and depression.

“We’ve had community meetings where grown men have cried,” said Sharon Gauthe, director of BISCO, a local, church-based nonprofit.
Bayou communities are used to dealing with disasters after many years of flooding and hurricanes, said Dr. Anthony Speier, assistant deputy secretary of the state Office of Mental Health. But they may be struggling with more anger and hopelessness than they can handle amid the Gulf oil spill, with some scientists projecting that the waters and marshes that support local fishermen could be affected for years.
“The difference between a hurricane and this oil spill is that after a hurricane, the damage is assessed and you can pick yourself back up and start rebuilding,” said Kim Chauvin, co-owner of the Mariah Jade Shrimp Co. in Chauvin. “You can get yourself help, get loans and neighbors help out neighbors.
“Here, there’s such uncertainty there is no planning for tomorrow.”
After a natural disaster, Speier said, there’s no one to blame. People often say it was “God’s will” or “That’s just the way the world is.” People are more likely to be forgiving of their misfortune and don’t carry the anger with them as they work together to rebuild.
But during a technological disaster, what this oil spill is considered, survivors know “your fellow man did this to you,” Speier said, and they’re overtaken with anger and loss.
Fishermen know BP spilled the oil that has stopped their work, Chauvin said, and now they have to go to BP to get employment cleaning up the mess or file claims to try and pay their bills in a frustrating process.

“Commercial fishermen are living stressed right now,” Chauvin said. “The shock is still settling in, but we’re only looking at the tip of the iceberg. You’re going to have a world of hurting people down here.”


Speier said the crisis in the Gulf shares similarities with 1989’s Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Both hit rural fishing communities hard.
“It creates another level of anxiety for people who live off the land,” Speier said.
Rob Gorman, executive director of Catholic Charities in Houma, said he counseled a woman who trawled with her family on weekends to freeze and store and supplement their family food supply. Without the ability to make this year’s catch, she fears how she will feed her family through the year.
He said he’s heard people complaining of sleeplessness, and when people are sleeping, they dream of black crude flooding their homes.
People have already been through a lot in bayou communities, Gauthe said. After hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike created bad fishing seasons, “people had big hopes for this year.”
With those hopes dashed, Gauthe said, “it’s like a death. They go through shock, denial, anger and depression.”
“People are facing a lot of unknowns,” Speier said, “asking themselves, ‘Is my way of life going to disappear? My way of providing for my family? Who’s going to help me? Will I even be able to live here?’ ”
One Terrebonne Parish family knows those questions well. Carla Ghere of Bayou Blue owns a 20-foot boat called the “Family Tradition,” and no name could be more fitting. Her parents harvested crabs for a living, and their five children carry on the tradition.

“We were hoping to pass it on to the next generation,” Linda Tillman, Ghere’s mother, said Saturday, gazing at her grandchildren near their dock in Chauvin. “I don’t know if that’s going to happen now.”


There are no easy answers, and with the ambiguity comes anxiety. And anxiety, unabated, can turn into depression and hopelessness.
The key to dealing with these feelings in many cases is to simply talk about them, Speier said.
But that can be a problem, especially for men, who in many cases are uncomfortable with the idea of counseling.
“Oftentimes these men, who’ve worked their whole lives being self-reliant, believe they can tough it out and if they just hold on it can get better,” Speier said.
He said the state has launched a series of radio ads directed at men to get out the message that it’s OK to talk about their anxieties.
“You can do it with a counselor, spouse or any kind of confidant or friend,” Speier said. “It makes problems more manageable if you talk about them. It’s natural to feel anger and the fear you may be losing things you’ve had your whole life, but you shouldn’t hold on to a bunch of anger.”
Gauthe, a professional mental-health counselor, said BISCO has tried to counter the fear of speaking by holding public meetings throughout the community. Everyone who shows up gets two minutes to talk, and the organization makes sure representatives from BP and local government attend to hear people out.


Catholic Charities is offering help to pay for food, medications, utilities, rent or mortgage payments to take some of the stress off people. The agency also offers counseling. If you need help, call 876-0490 in Terrebonne or 696-1943 in south Lafourche or Grand Isle.

The state Office of Mental Health is discretely sending counselors down the bayou to seafood companies, community centers and door to door to check in with people. The counseling isn’t designed like traditional therapy, Speier said. It’s geared to help people tackle big problems and take them apart so they’re easier to confront.
“It’s really the sense of a loss of control that hurts people,” Speier said. “If we break our problems into small issues, there may be a way to solve them one at a time.”
Speier recommended some small things you can do to help yourself feel healthier while under mental stress, such as exercising, eating regular meals and drinking less coffee and alcohol.
The state has a crisis line that you can call 24-hours a day: 1-866-310-7977.
If you feel like you can’t manage, he added, and you think you might hurt yourself or someone else, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital or the parish mental-health center. Centers are at 500 Legion Ave. in Houma, 141 Twin Oaks Drive in Raceland, and 127 E 123rd St. in Galliano.
Nikki Buskey can be reached at 857-2205 or

1 comment:

  1. We,The People, in order to form a more perfect union, establish Justice and promote domestic tranquility and provide for the common defense, against All enemies.both foreign and domestic, do hereby declare that, We will not buy gas or fuel on our Day Of Independence.


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