4:24am

Fri March 21, 2014
StoryCorps

Animal Rescuers Create Joy Amid Chaos After Exxon Valdez Spill

Originally published on Fri March 21, 2014 10:21 am

It's been 25 years since the Exxon Valdez ran aground off the coast of Alaska, spilling millions of gallons of oil into Prince William Sound.

The impact on wildlife was devastating. Cleanup crews poured into the nearby port town, also called Valdez, where an animal rescue center was set up.

"The chaos is incredibly difficult to describe or even imagine," says LJ Evans, a local resident who volunteered to help. "Somebody came back with the first bird — the reporters were so frantic, somebody got in a fight trying to take a picture of this poor little oiled bird."

"We were working 14-, 16-, 18-hour days there for the first month and a half," Suzanne Bishop, another rescue worker, tells LJ on a visit to StoryCorps in Fairbanks, Alaska. "We ran countless times a day from one room to the other with dog kennels stacked up high all the way down the hallway of otters."

"I had nightmares for years, because they screamed," LJ says. "I'd never heard a sound like that."

"I remember going home every night and sobbing, because it was not only terribly sad, it was very hard work," Suzanne adds.

"Then one joyous day, in this whole long stressful experience, we took all these birds that had been washed, and lined up all these kennels on the beach — 30 of them, 40 of them — each one with half a dozen birds," LJ recalls. "We opened all those crates, and they swarmed out into the water and made such an incredible noise. They either paddled or they flew, but they got the hell out of there.

"There was so much stress, so much tension for so many months," she adds. "At least for that moment, that little while, you could feel good about something that we had done."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Friday means it's time for StoryCorps, capturing history through stories of everyday people. Monday marks 25 years since the Exxon Valdez ran aground off the coast of Alaska, spilling 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound. The impact on wildlife was devastating. Hundreds of thousands of marine animals died.

Cleanup crews poured into the nearby port town, also called Valdez, and the first animal rescue center was set up there. LJ Evans, who lived in town, volunteered and that's where she met Suzanne Bishop, another rescue worker. At StoryCorps, they remember the early days following the spill.

LJ EVANS: The chaos is incredibly difficult to describe or even imagine. Somebody came back with the first bird. The reporters were so frantic. Somebody got in a fight trying to take a picture of this poor little oiled bird.

SUZANNE BISHOP: I remember coming into the town and finding no place to sleep. We slept in the back of our truck. There were a lot of people that just felt like they needed to take things into their own hands, people in their dinghies going out into the Sound picking up these animals and bringing them back to us wrapped up in towels.

EVANS: All of those creatures tried to get the oil off by grooming themselves so then they were ingesting crude oil.

BISHOP: We were working 14, 16, 18-hour days there for the first month and a half. We ran countless times a day from one room to the other with dog kennels stacked up high all the way down the hallway of otters.

EVANS: I had nightmares for years. They screamed.

BISHOP: Yeah.

EVANS: I'd never heard a sound like that.

BISHOP: I remember going home every night and sobbing, because it was not only terribly sad, it was very hard work.

EVANS: The one joyous day in this whole long stressful experience, we took all these birds that had been washed, and lined up all these kennels on the beach, 30 of them, 40 of them, each one with half a dozen birds. We opened all those crates, and they swarmed out into the water and made such an incredible noise. They either paddled or they flew, but they got the hell out of there.

There was so much stress, so much tension for so many months. At least for that moment, that little while, you could feel good about something that we had done.

GREENE: LJ Evans and Suzanne Bishop at StoryCorps in Fairbanks, Alaska. This, along with all StoryCorps interviews, is archived at the Library of Congress, and the StoryCorps podcast is at NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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