Thursday, March 26, 2009

The day the waves stopped crashing

Tuesday marked the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, a cataclysmic event for the communities surrounding Prince William Sound, Alaska. The local fishing industry was devastated; not to mention the wildlife that flocked there--salmon, sea otters, seals, seabirds. Roughly 11 million gallons of crude oil were spilled into the ocean when a massive oil tanker struck a reef. Apparently the ship was on auto pilot as the men who should have been steering it did exactly what anyone who had not been given a six-hour break between 12-hour shifts would have done--they slept. Prosecutors claimed they were drunk.

Riki Ott, a resident of the nearby fishing village of Cordova, wrote a book about the incident and appeared on Democracy Now! the other day. She spoke of fishing communities economically and spiritually bankrupt; a mayor that committed suicide...I found her words chillingly poetic:

We were worried that the oil—the killing would not stop in 1989, the scientists. It was a huge devastation. I couldn’t even go out on the beaches initially. I couldn’t take the emotional hit. People came back, the fishermen, and they said they had sat down on what they presumed was rock to cry, and it turned out to be like an oiled sea otter or something that was dying. There were just bodies everywhere. The oil in some of the bays was over three feet thick. You couldn’t even hear the sound of the waves crashing on the shoreline; everything was muted. Some of the oil, with the storm that came through—there was a huge storm that came through, and it just smeared oil up to forty feet high on some of our coastline—was in the trees. I mean, it just took animals out, and it was very, very quiet.

1 comment:

Sean Wraight said...

Amity, Twenty years? Unbelievable...

It amazes me that even after two decades the gravity of this disaster is still gut-wrenching. I remember the profound sadness and accompanying anger I felt when I first heard about this catastrophe... It literally changed me, particularly in assessing my own role in environmental preservation and ownership. I'd like to think this kind of thing will never happen again but the pessimist in me thinks we've just been very lucky.

Evocative post Amity. Thank you.