Diverse Community of the Bayou Laments Life After Oil Leak

Lafitte, Louisiana

In the tiny country town of Lafitte, La., residents use their water like highways. Their backyards back up to a crisp, marshy bayou. They park their boats and walk right up to their kitchens. Children wade in the clear, clean water while their fathers put on hazmat suits and cart boom to the devastated gulf only a few miles away.

For now, Lafitte's bayou is safe.

"My biggest fears is that oil gets on this water and they shut us down completely," said Richard Smith, a lifelong fisherman. Unless the government declares his home a hazard, he intends to stay in Lafitte.

"I've been here all my life. It's my way of living. That's not blood," he said, pointing to his arm. "That's bayou water."

The families of Lafitte say it feels like there has been a death in the family. They're grieving a tremendous loss -- their home.

Dottie Higgins and her husband, Denny, are third-generation owners of Higgins Seafood, a modest seafood shack that is inches from the water. She gets phone calls every day from people asking whether her seafood is safe. The Higgins have depleted their savings and had to raise prices. They've even had to take food from the church charity.

"My biggest fear is just not being here," Dottie Higgins said. "What are we going to do? We can't go find jobs. It's just scary."

Buras, Louisiana

In Buras, La., the Vietnamese who make up a third to a half of the 13,000 fishermen in the Gulf said language barriers and a lack of boats meant they were often overlooked for BP's Vessels of Opportunity program.

Robert Nguyen, a 56-year-old local community leader, said he has been out of work since the day of the spill and has lost $80,000 of profit so far this season.

A lot of fishermen, including himself, are having trouble making payments on their boats, he said.

"These people [boat captains from Texas] are coming in, taking away jobs from local fishermen, which is only thing they know how to do," he said. "And now they're sitting back and choosing who gets to work and who doesn't, and these people feel like they're being treated not fair at all. ... And that's now what America is all about."

Nguyen received $5,000 from BP, not nearly enough to take care of his family of six children. Nguyen has been in the United States since 1976 and doesn't know where he will go if he is unable to make a living here.

He and other fishermen said they are still waiting to be called for BP's Vessels of Opportunity program. It's meant to give local boat operators a chance to assist with the oil cleanup.

"It's hard for me at my age and hard for me to start all over again. Not only me, all fishermen," he said.

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