VENICE, La. -- Morris Hartt doesn't wish for disaster, but he's survived so many during his life on this skinny strip of land between the levee and the bayou, that he's used to making the best of the boom that follows emergencies.
With the oil crisis developing off the coast, his little cinderblock convenience store on the main road to the port of Venice is once again riding the crest of disaster. Business has been booming for two weeks, as oil clean-up crews, government workers, environmentalists and sightseers have flooded in to Venice, a staging area for the cleanup operation.
"There's definitely a boom after a disaster, and you can make money if you are the first one down here," he says. "After Katrina, I had the first gas, the first beer, the first ice and a television." Selling beer from a cooler outside his store, which was still knee deep in mud , he replaced the sign that once said "Coldest Beer in town" with one that said "Only Beer in Town."
Hartt says he knew just what to do because he watched his father, who opened the store in 1954 and had to rebuild it after Hurricane Betsy flooded it and the family home across the road in 1965. He did so again after Hurricane Camille battered their home and swept away the entire store – everything but an air compressor.
Now, Hartt is getting business from a different sort of disaster.
While a clutch of regulars gather inside Hartt's Exxon, swigging beer in a cloud of cigarette smoke, a steady stream of customers pull in — oil cleanup workers, environmentalists, sightseers and the occasional journalist.
Business is buzzing up and down the road to Venice. The Cyprus Cove restaurant at the marina is so crowded that the owner brought in extra waiters and kitchen staff from his restaurant up in Metarie.
"Every motel, cabin, and trailer space in the area — it's all booked," says Tony Fricky, who works for the Port of Venice.
In front of one home along the main road, the owners put up a sign hoping to cash in on the overflow: "Oil spill campers welcome!"
But the aftermath of this crisis will be different, perhaps much worse than the more familiar mess left by hurricanes.
Already friends and customers who fish are suffering from the loss of income, Hartt says, and the whole community fears the long-term damage from the oil.
"We don't know what to expect at all," he says. "Business is good for me now, but it's not good enough to make up for it if fishing is ruined for a hundred years. We'll starve to death."