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(NECN: Washington, D.C.) - In an emotional plea for help from the federal government, Grand Isle, Louisiana Mayor David Camardelle told a Senate panel on Thursday his people do not want to be put on food stamps, but to be able to fish the Gulf waters again.
Mayor Camardelle testified before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee. It was a trying effort for him, looking at giant images of the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the explosion of a British Petroleum oil rig, to overcome his emotions in discussing the damage this disaster has brought to his people.
He issued a plea for the senators to push their colleagues and President Barack Obama to award them the necessary assistance to block the oil from further damaging their shores, marshes and wildlife. The community would rather fight for its way of life than go on government assistance, he said.
"We're not waiting. Two Saturday's ago I commandeered the fishermen at the dock, told everybody to get out the way and we put fishermen to work," he said. "We just don't want to be on food stamps -- we're not used to that. We want to go to work and save our community."
Mayor Camardelle had a meeting with President Obama scheduled for 3:30 Thursday afternoon. He said he will push his hardest to get the federal help Grand Isle desperately needs.
"I'm gonna block them five passes, get out of there in 45 days and I'll stop -- with a little pressure -- I'll stop and protect five parishes," Mayor Camardelle said, warning that British Petroleum is showing the president something other than its true cleanup efforts. "It looks like every time the president came BP got closer to me, they pushed the button and then they fade away."
The president is scheduled to visit Louisiana, Alabama and Florida on Monday and Tuesday of next week.
We're true Americans
In possibly the most emotional portion of his opening statement, Mayor Camardelle tapped into the American spirit of helping one's neighbor in the toughest of times. During the 50-plus-day crisis, he has paid for the food of some Grand Isle families -- most consist of fishermen whose waters have been off limits due to the oil spill.
"I gave my credit card before, I fed some families. I make $513 a week as mayor. I've got my own family to raise," Mayor Carmardelle said in his plea for the federal government to step in and make things right. "I can promise you, I will let no one starve. Maybe that's why I've been reelected seven terms."
He comes from a family of fishermen, and recanted a story from his childhood in which he learned the meaning of the American flag, which was proudly displayed in his grandparents' home.
"Tomorrow, I'll stop at my grandfather's tomb and my father's tomb and tell 'em," he said, pausing to grasp control of his emotions, "that I want to continue holding an American flag -- that I stood up for my people, and I'm gonna continue feeding my people."
With 45 days remaining until a major hurricane would likely storm through the Gulf and hit the Louisiana coast, he made a final plea for the panel to push for help. He seemed exhausted by his own emotions.
"I just need your help. It's like a war, and I'm on the front line," Mayor Camardelle said. "Thank you all so much."