The Williams family celebrates a reunion outside of Pointe à la Hache, Louisiana."Broken Bayou: Two Years After BP," Two years after the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon began a chain of events that released 4.9 billion gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the historically African-American East Bank of Plaquemines Parish is still dealing with the consequences. Between the bayou and the Mississippi, the oystermen who built these towns are now struggling to survive and, hanging in the balance, are fishing villages that have a remarkable history.
For most of the 19th century, African-Americans — some former slaves, others descendants of Africans, Native Americans, French, and Spanish settlers — gave these communities life. In towns like Phoenix, Davant and Pointe à la Hache, communities populated by former sharecroppers built their own seafood industry. In the time since, these communities have not only survived hurricanes but environmental practices and regulations that have disproportionately affected African-American populations.
Now, the refusal of oysters to return to the surrounding bays following the BP oil spill is a serious concern; the disaster that has the potential to force oystermen, with little education and few options, to do something else. With oyster hauls cut in half, not only is the industry in grave danger of ending but the towns that the industry built are also in serious danger of being forever changed by its absence. "Broken Bayou" is the story of these towns.
On Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - the day after Hurricane Sandy struck - Jack Elliott peers into a flooded car garage in New York's Financial District., "In Her Wake: Hurricane Sandy Hits The East Coast," On October 29th, Hurricane Sandy, the largest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, made landfall near Atlantic City, New Jersey. Coinciding with a spring tide, Sandy's storm surge moved along and over the coasts of New Jersey and New York, washing away boardwalks, flooding subway stations, and tearing apart beachfront homes from Seaside Heights, New Jersey to Rockaway Beach, New York. The New York Stock Exchange closed for two consecutive days, the first weather-related closure since 1985, and over 100 homes in the Breezy Point, Queens - home to a large community of New York City's firefighters - were destroyed in a single night. In coastal communities across New Jersey and New York City (such as Red Hook, Coney Island, Staten Island and the Rockaways), residents returned to homes that had been completely flooded, with standing water in basements, and streets awash in sand and gasoline. Responsible for at least $20 billion in damage and 209 deaths in seven countries, Hurricane Sandy killed at least 48 people in New York City; the borough of Staten Island, accounting for 43 deaths, being struck particularly hard.
More than two weeks after the storm hit, the cleanup and rebuilding effort has already begun. Basements have been gutted and donations have been made, but many are beginning to put the pieces of their lives back together even as they continue to lack heat and electricity. As the contents of people's lives begin to gather in large trash heaps at Jacob Riis park and inspectors begin to condemn homes, the future of many of New Jersey and New York's coastal communities hangs in the balance.