Coronavirus rekindles oil spill memories along Gulf Coast

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AP2010

FILE - In this file photo taken June 12, 2010, crude oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill washes ashore in Orange Beach, Ala. The spring of coronavirus feels a lot like the summer of oil to residents along the Gulf Coast. Bars and restaurants are empty in Florida because of an invisible threat nearly a decade after the BP oil spill ravaged the region from the ocean floor up, and condominium reservations have taken a nosedive in Alabama. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)

The spring of the coronavirus feels a lot like the summer of oil to residents along the Gulf Coast.

Bars and restaurants are empty in Florida because of an invisible threat nearly a decade after the BP oil spill ravaged the region from the ocean floor up, and condominium reservations have taken a nosedive in Alabama. There’s no crude on the sand, just fear and uncertainty over COVID-19, the disease caused by the new threat. Some beaches are closed to limit crowds.

No one is rolling dice or playing the slots in Mississippi’s casinos, which are closed to slow the viral spread, and other businesses are seeing a slowdown. The party has all but stopped in New Orleans, where Bourbon Street is eerily quiet, its bars and nightclubs shuttered for who knows how long.

“The parallels with 2010 are …. I don’t even know if I have the words,” said Tony Kennon, mayor of the tourist-dependent town of Orange Beach, Alabama.

Visitors fled the coast and the seafood industry all but closed temporarily after a BP well blew out and began spewing oil in April 2010, killing 11 rig workers. The sight of oily pelicans, tar-covered beaches and the stench of petroleum in the water gave the coast an apocalyptic feel.

Days of uncertainty turned into months of worry and red ink for businesses and residents.

It was only late last year that Bobby Williams, who runs a 46-foot-long (14-meter-long) charter fishing boat in Gulfport, Mississippi, received his final payment from a BP oil spill claim. He was hoping for a good 2020 until the coronavirus upended everything last week.

Now, with health officials and government leaders telling people to stay home and avoid groups to prevent catching or spreading the virus, it seems the only time the phone rings is when someone else is calling to cancel a fishing trip.