At the community meeting in Buras, grandmothers held babies and fishermen stood impatiently in rubber work boots as David Kinnaird, community outreach spokesman for BP, made another apology for any confusion BP caused with the liability waivers.
“We recognize we’ve been having problems communicating with people in this parish and I’m here to make sure that everyone is heard and listened to,” said Kinnaird, his presentation translated into Vietnamese and Cambodian by two local residents.
Parish officials and United Way representative also provided locations in the parish where charities are distributing food, announced that a local Methodist church will soon be handing out $100 checks to out-of-work families, and announced the establishment of a United Way effort to help local fishermen.
The room remained silent when they were asked if anyone present was worried about eating that night, but anger quickly flashed at Aronfeld, who started a question and answer period by admonishing local residents against hostility, shouting, or threats about lawsuits or claims.
“We are normal people! We are not animals! Talk to us like we are human beings!” one obviously upset fisherman shouted at Aronfeld, who profusely apologized.
Despite repeated promises by BP to quickly help fisherman in the region, many at the meeting complained of being caught in a Catch-22 of bureaucracy: BP is only accepting claims of economic loss from boat owners, not deckhands, and the company’s Vessel of Opportunity employing boatmen to fight the oil spill is only hiring fisherman who can prove their local residency.
Many Asian immigrants who have worked in Plaquemines for decades do not own their own boats. Many also moved to New Orleans after losing their homes to Hurricane Katrina, but still return to Plaquemines everyday to work.
Katrina’s lasting impact
“Since Katrina there is no school here for our kids, so we had to move to New Orleans,” said shrimper Houston Le, 40. “But I still come here every day, even now with the fishing closed I am coming, but BP says it is only hiring people they say live in Plaquemines.”
BP spokesperson Kinnaird said he would get answers, and referred residents to BP’s phone number for claims, pointing out that translators are available on the toll-free line. Thoai Tong, a fisherman who is acting as an interpreter for Aronfeld, estimated that out of the 3,000 immigrants from Southeast Asia living and working in Plaquemines, about ten percent are fluent in English.