THERIOT, La. – Docked boats were bedecked with fluttering red, white and blue streamers and rainbows of balloons in a bayou-country, pre-shrimp season tradition known as the “Blessing of the Boats.”

On the menu? Heaping trays of barbecued chicken, smoked sausage and potato salad — but no crabs or shrimp.

Blame the BP oil spill.

The future isn’t so clear for fishermen and their families seeking blessings for a bountiful harvest and divine protection from the water’s dangers. They are wondering if the waters will ever be the same again.

“I’ve had ice chests of shrimp in my freezer all my life,” said Dita Dehart, 70, a lifelong area resident who was working on desserts in a back room of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, which has hosted the blessing on Bayou Dularge for more than 50 years. “I have none now.”

Fishermen have suffered through the ever-changing scenario of on-again, off-again closures and a murky future ever since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers.

BP said Sunday it may soon begin drilling the final 100 feet of a relief well.

Once the relief well intersects the broken well, more mud and cement will be pumped in for the “bottom kill” meant to seal the well for good.

However, the plugging of the well hasn’t ended the uncertainty: Yes, the state technically set Aug. 16 as the opening for a fall shrimp season along the coast, but some waters will likely stay closed as federal authorities test the safety of the seafood.

“I got a boat that’s ready,” said Ravin Lacoste, 57. “But we don’t know what’s going to open up.”

The company announced Sunday that cement sealing the busted oil well had hardened, clearing the path for the final phase of drilling a relief well.

BP said that pressure tests on the cement plug poured down the throat of the blown-out well show the seal is solidly in place.

That means BP engineers can permanently seal the blowout.

Crews will carefully drill about 30 feet at a time, and BP says it will likely be next weekend before the two wells meet. BP didn’t make it clear Sunday if workers had begun drilling.

Engineers will use the relief well for a “bottom kill,” pumping more mud and cement into the busted well in what is expected to completely seal the well for good.


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