Oil spill dampens 4th of July turnout along Mississippi beaches

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by Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News

wwltv.com

Posted on July 4, 2010 at 5:55 PM

Updated Saturday, Jul 31 at 4:51 PM

BILOXI, Ms. -- In the shadow of clean-up crews, people on the beach in Biloxi frolicked in the surf, right along the oil containment boom.

"We came here figuring somewhere along the Mississippi Coast we'd find a spot without oil," said Eddie Duhe of Norco, La.

Duhe's previous stomping ground of Grand Isle is now off limits because of the spill. So, he and his family settled into their beach chairs in Biloxi on the 4th of July.

"There weren't any shortage of rooms," he said.

Duhe's statement is the kind that sends a shudder through the people who work at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau. On the 4th of July weekend, the Mississippi beaches would usually be packed. This year, though, the oil spill kept the crowds away.

"In any tourism destination, the 4th of July weekend is huge," said Janice Jones with the Mississippi Gulf Coast CVB. "In general, if you don't make it on the 4th of July, you're considered to have not made it."

For tourism-related businesses along Mississippi's beaches, this summer was supposed to signal their comeback from Hurricane Katrina. The oil spill changed all that. Sunday's bright sunshine did little to brighten Pat Pigott's mood: his beach rental business is down about 75 percent since May. This should be his busiest time of the year.

"It is usually packed right now. I mean, usually every chair we got right here is rented out before 9 o'clock in the morning on the 4th of July," Pigott said. "There are some days we come down here, we don't make nothing. It's disgusting to me. This whole thing is disgusting."

Some Biloxi residents said they understand why people aren't coming to their beach this year-- but they have high hopes for next year.

"I just would hope in the near future that the beaches, particularly for the 4th of July, would return to their pre-Katrina status. It was just a very lively time. That's what I'm hoping to see, hopefully next year," said Cedric Lewis of Biloxi. "Nothing's impossible. Nothing's impossible."

The Convention and Visitors Bureau said more than 1,200 workers are cleaning Mississippi's beaches both during the day and at night. They have put up a website providing daily updates on the beaches at www.gulfcoast.org/visitors/deepwaterupdates

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