Environment | National

NPR: Alaska Natives still feeling effects of Exxon Valdez oil spill





Alaska Natives are still feeling the effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, 25 years later:
Native Alaskan Tom Andersen, once a commercial fisherman, no longer makes his living from the sea, either. "You can't fix it. Once you break that egg, sometimes that's it," he says.

Andersen, 71, says the waters here have sustained his people, the Chugach, for generations. He now picks up odd construction jobs hanging drywall. A whole way of living has changed, he says, making a wiping motion with his arm.

"You pretty much lived there — you got your clams and crabs and fish," he says. "And then somebody come and dumped oil all over it, you know? That's really hitting home."

Because the oil company and government agencies were ill-prepared to respond, oil from the Exxon Valdez stretched for 11,000 square miles. It fouled beaches, destroyed fisheries and killed hundreds of thousands of birds and all kinds of sea life, including whales and sea otters.

Exxon eventually set up a voluntary program to compensate oil spill victims, and hired local fishermen for the cleanup – including Andersen, who worked a sea otter rescue crew.

"You could smell [the oil] before you ever saw it," he recalls. Prince William Sound, he says, was silenced. "There was no fish, no birds chasing fish. You could sit there and it'd just be dead quiet. So everybody called it the dead zone."

Get the Story:
25 Years After Spill, Alaska Town Struggles Back From 'Dead Zone' (NPR 3/24)

Also Today:
25 years later, oil spilled from Exxon Valdez still clings to lives, Alaska habitat (The Anchorage Daily News 3/21)

Related Stories:
Alaska Natives get small share of Exxon judgment (6/26)