Cain Burdeau, Associated Press
Harry R. Weber, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Relatives of some of the 11 men who died aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig are flying over the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, back to the epicenter of the worst offshore oil spill in the nation's history.
Meanwhile, on land, vigils were scheduled in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida to mark the spill.
On the night of April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon, a rig owned by Transocean Ltd., burst into flames after drilling a well for BP PLC, killing 11 workers on or near the drilling floor. The rest of the crew evacuated, but two days later the rig toppled into the Gulf and sank to the sea floor. The bodies were never recovered.
Over the next 85 days, 206 million gallons of oil — 19 times more than the Exxon Valdez spilled — spewed from the well. In response, the nation commandeered the largest offshore fleet of vessels since D-Day, and BP spent billions of dollars to clean up the mess, saving itself from collapse.
"I can't believe tomorrow has been one year because it seems like everything just happened," Courtney Kemp, whose husband Roy Wyatt Kemp was killed on the rig, wrote on her Facebook page Tuesday. "I have learned a lot of things through all of this but the most important is to live each day as if it were your last ... what matters is if you truly live."
Natalie Roshto, whose husband Shane Roshto also died on the rig, posted a message on Courtney Kemp's Facebook page on Tuesday evening: "Can't believe it's been a year.. It has brought a lot of tears and a great friendship I'm Soooo thankful for.. We are a strong force together!! Love u sista."
In a statement, President Barack Obama paid tribute to those killed in the blast and thanked the thousands of responders who "worked tirelessly to mitigate the worst impacts" of the oil spill.
"But we also keep a watchful eye on the continuing and important work required to ensure that the Gulf Coast recovers stronger than before," Obama said in the statement.
The president said significant progress has been made but the work isn't done.
Transocean invited up to three members of each family to attend the flyover. They were expected to circle the site a few times in a helicopter, though there is no visible marker identifying where their loved ones perished. At the bottom of the sea, 11 stars were imprinted on the well's final cap.
Several families said they didn't want to go on the flyover, and Transocean decided to not allow media on the flight or at a private service later in the day in Houston.
The solemn ceremonies marking the disaster underscore the delicate healing that is only now taking shape. Oil still occasionally rolls up on beaches in the form of tar balls, and fishermen face an uncertain future.
Louis and Audrey Neal of Pass Christian, Miss., who make their living from crabbing, said it's gotten so bad since the spill that they're contemplating divorce and facing foreclosure as the bills keep piling up.
"I don't see any daylight at the end of this tunnel. I don't see any hope at all. We thought we'd see hope after a year, but there's nothing," Audrey Neal said.
"We ain't making no money. There's no crabs," said Louis Neal, a lifelong crabber.
"I'm in the worst shape I've ever been in my whole damn life. I'm about to lose my whole family," he said. "I can't even pay the loans I have out there. That's how bad it's gotten."