Diane Sawyer’s person of the week wants to show the world just how hospitable Plaquemines Parish can be.
At a town hall meeting this week Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, who is to be anointed by Sawyer during a Friday night appearance on the ABC newscaster’s show, implored residents in attendance to be “hospitable.”
“The eyes of the world are on us,” he said, referring to all those who have suddenly noticed that his threatened sliver of coastal Louisiana is feeling the first effects of oil on land.
Meanwhile, his own tone only grows more desperate with each passing moment.
The embattled former oil industry entrepreneur greeted residents and reporters entering Wednesday’s meeting. His sunburned face wore the exasperation of days outside watching oil seep into the marshland that defines his parish.
The head of the coast guard, Admiral Thad Allen, is a “cartoon character,” he told one gaggle of foreign journalists.
“I don’t blame the president, I blame BP and the Coast Guard,” Nungesser announced to the rest of the audience. The auditorium in which he spoke had been erected by FEMA after the region’s last catastrophe, Hurricane Katrina.
Admiral Allen “cannot come to work here,” he postured.
But while Nungesser’s anger is directed at the people who are charged with stopping the oil spill, one Coast Guard captain seemed to be focusing his ire on the people affected by it.
Addressing the attentive crowd, Coast Guard Captain Ed Stanton presented other oil spill scenarios from which the region had recovered. He mentioned a 1970 Chevron spill that spewed 2 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico. “We cleaned up and we recovered,” Stanton said. He made no mention of the obvious differences to this ongoing leak in the Gulf, which by some conservative estimates has already spilled more than 18 million gallons.
One listener, Matt Levetich, an oysterman with beds stretching from Mississippi to Grand Isle, voiced concerns about what he characterized as the “piecemeal” response to an “epic large” event.
To that, Stanton shot back, “epic large, where did you hear that?”
The most heated exchange of the evening came when audience member Lance Gremillion brought up World War II battle of Dunkirk, when allied forces reacted deftly to a threat before being eventually defeated. The event has alternately gone down in history as a dynamic fight and humiliation.
“I would have expected a Dunkirk-like response,” Gremillion said, wrapping up comments about inadequate boom placement. The mention of the battle elicited a fiery response from Stanton. “ Dunkirk, “ he said, “you mean the battle famous for its retreat?”