The looming Gulf of Mexico oil spill has forced many local fishermen out of their trade. Areas ravaged by the floods and winds of Hurricane Katrina five years ago are again in survival mode, this time against a silent, slow-moving threat.
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Unlike post-Katrina, when the federal government stepped in with billions of dollars in recovery funds, responsibility for the oil crisis is left largely to BP, says Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La., whose district includes Louisiana's southeastern coast. "It's terribly frustrating," he says. "You see these people who are so resilient, so strong-willed, so hard-working get knocked down and get back up. Now there's less ability to fix everything. It's not in their control at all."
Technical disasters, such as oil spills, tend to be more stressful on people than natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, says Steve Picou, an environmental sociologist at the University of South Alabama who has studied disasters.
Fishing villages affected by the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989, for example, showed high stress levels 14 years after the spill, Picou says.