Majority of Gulf Coast residents hurt economically, emotionally from spill, Washington Post-ABC News poll finds

BP, the government and an army of volunteers are fighting to contain and clean the millions of gallons of oil spewing from the site of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.
By Kyle Dropp and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 14, 2010; 5:09 PM

Residents of the Gulf Coast are reeling from the effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill, as big majorities of those in the area already hit by oil report a steep economic downturn and say the slick has caused severe environmental degradation. Many also say they've suffered emotionally and personally, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Three-quarters of those who live in affected counties and parishes from Louisiana to Florida say the spill has hurt their local economies, with large numbers fearing negative, long-term consequences for the environment, the economy, tourism and the safety of the seafood they eat.

"This economy survives off of seafood and the oil rigs," said Dusty Goforth, 57, of Slidell, La., in a follow-up interview. "Right now, they've got all of that shut down. It's destroyed the economy down here."

Nearly a third of those polled in the Gulf say the spill has hurt their own pocketbook.

Aaron Terrebonne, 27, of Cutoff, La., said he lost his job in carpentry a few weeks after the spill and has not found work since.

"Nobody wants to poke out any money to spend on their houses," he said. "You don't have to remodel, it's a luxury."

Guy Tatum, 64, a small business owner in Orange Beach, Ala., said his records show his tourism dependent business is down more than 40 percent from last summer, which was a tough one as well.

The spill has also deeply touched the psyches of many Gulf residents. About two-thirds of those in the area say they're angry or upset about the spill. A third of those in affected counties and parishes say they've felt depressed about the spill recently. Among residents reporting the most oil ashore in their areas, 55 percent are downright angry and 39 percent say they've been depressed about it.

"I think there's an undercurrent all the time of depression down here. I'd be surprised if the whole country didn't feel it," said Elizabeth Rappaport, 53, of New Orleans.

For Lynda Presley, 61, of Saucier, Miss., it's a bad trend. "It's sad because it's going to take a long, long time for our lives to be like they were. I think we got a double whammy," she said, referring back to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.

The poll, conducted by telephone July 7 to 11, included interviews with additional, randomly selected residents along the Gulf in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi. A total of 301 area adults were interviewed, and the sample has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 6.5 percentage points. The full national poll has an error margin of 3.5 points.

About seven in 10 nationally and in the Gulf give the federal government negative ratings on its handling of the spill, and roughly eight in 10 in both samples give low marks to BP.

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