Oil Spill Frustration: When All They Can Do Is Pray

Locals, tourists feel shut out of the BP spill cleanup effort.

GRAND ISLE, La., June 13, 2010 -- Frustrated by an inability to anything but sit and watch oil lap onto the shores of Grand Isle, a group of environmental enthusiasts, tourists and locals took to the empty beach Sunday to do the only thing they could think of to help -- they prayed.

They trickled down to the beach carrying parasols, Bibles and cases of bottled water, careful not to get too close to the line in the sand that, if breached, earned a swift reaction from local authorities and cleanup crews working to get the muck from the BP oil spill off the beaches.

"We just wanted to get people together," said Carrie Crockette, events coordinator for the Humane Society of Louisiana, which organized the late-afternoon prayer service. "We have so much frustration. People who want to help and they can't in any way."

Grand Isle, a thin, seven-mile stretch of land that juts out into Gulf of Mexico, would normally be packed with families and fishermen driving their golf carts and pickup trucks down Highway 1 in search of the next big catch.

But like much of the Louisiana coastline this summer, the darkly tanned men slinging fishing poles have been replaced by men in badges who carefully scrutinize anyone who tries to get too close to the often seemingly perfect beaches.

Crockette said she and others from the Humane Society, which is unaffiliated with the Humane Society of the United States, have been working with state and federal officials to get involved in the efforts to rescue and clean oiled birds and animals, but said they've found that permits can take up to three to six months to secure.

"We want to get a task force here to take volunteers out on the water and save the animals," she said.

But until then, they will aim to keep the pressure on those who can help to keep doing so. It's a cause some of the locals have gotten behind.

"I think God's the only one who's going to get us out of the mess," said Liz Watkins, who moved to Grand Isle permanently last year after vacationing on the island for nearly 20 years.

Locals, her friend Barbara Picard said, "are very sad and worried."

Life in Grand Isle, she said, "just depends on everything that's been taken away."

In the 1940s, Picard's family was among the first to buy one of the rectangular houses propped up on stilts -- known locally as "camps," that are so prevalent on Grand Isle.

"I've been here all my life and it's just our way of living," she said. "We come in the summer and go home in the fall when the football starts."

And while she loathes what has happened to her prized community and the devastation it has brought on the fishing industry, Picard said the area also can't live without oil production.

"We have to have it, unless people want to walk," she said.

As a Grand Isle reverend asked the impromptu congregation to hold onto their faith for as long as it took, many openly weeped and held each other. One woman, clutching her water bottle tightly in the sweltering heat, stood still with her head bowed.

A nun, her feet protected from the hot sand by Crocs, stood off to the side under an umbrella. And a mother, her eyes sad, held each of her children under their arms, squeezing them reassuredly.

Maya Morris, a self-admitted non-praying type from New Orleans, said she too came down to the Gulf hoping to find some way to help. She was turned down everywhere she went.

"I don't pray," she said, wiping away tears. "The more I live in Louisiana the more I want to."