(Photo: AP Images / Gerald Herbert)
Residents around the oil-contaminated Gulf of Mexico gathered Wednesday evening for a community crisis prayer service in the wake of what some say may be the worst leak in U.S. history.
Prayers were said at First Baptist Church of Chalmette to help people summon strength and hope five weeks into the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Though the Coast Guard had estimated the flow of oil resulting from the April 20 explosion of a BP oil well to be at 5,000 barrels a day, new estimates suggested it was much higher. A group of scientists determined that between 17 and 39 million gallons of oil have spilled into the waters – more than the 11 million gallons from the 1989 Exxon disaster, according to The Associated Press.
The spill has affected more than 47,000 households along the coast of Louisiana that rely on income from commercial fishing, tourism and other support services.
Churches and charities have stepped up to assist families with prayer support and food.
"Our first priority in this disaster is the people who are directly impacted and unable to work right now," said Archbishop Gregory Aymond. "Their livelihood and their way of life are endangered and it is our responsibility as church and as human beings to provide for them in their time of need."
Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans and Second Harvest Food Bank have been providing emergency assistance such as food, case management, counseling services and vouchers to fishermen and their families since April 29. Last week BP America announced a $1 million donation to the charity group.
"We knew immediately that the impact would be enormous and we would need to respond quickly," said Catholic Charities Co-President Jim Kelly.
Catholic Charities expects to see a rise in unemployment rates in the affected areas and an increase in demand for its service.