Spill Effects 'Like Katrina Again' in Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS — The rebuilding boom in the five years since Hurricane Katrina helped shield Louisiana from the worst of the economic and housing slump. Now the oil spill may cause many people in the state to suffer long after the national economy heals.

Economists and real estate brokers here say it is too early to gauge the long-term damage, but the early signs are worrisome. Leaking oil already has sapped tourism and fishing, and uncertainty lingers as the federal government appeals a court ruling blocking its six-month ban on deepwater oil drilling, which could cost more high-paying jobs.

"Things were really rocking" in Louisiana, said Peter Ricchiuti, a professor of finance at Tulane University and former assistant state treasurer. Insurance proceeds, federal disaster relief and growing employment in oil and gas helped the state "coast through the national recession," he said. Louisiana's jobless rate in May was 6.9%, well below the national average of 9.7%.

In the wake of the spill, Mr. Ricchiuti said, "it just kind of seems like Katrina again," only this time in slow motion.

"Basically, it's like starting from zero again," said Jure Slavic, who cultivates oysters near his home in Belle Chasse, La. Mr. Slavic, 56 years old, hasn't been able to harvest oysters since mid-May because of fears that oil spewing from the disabled BP PLC well in the Gulf of Mexico has contaminated all kinds of seafood.

After Katrina hit in August 2005, Mr. Slavic had to put a new roof on his home and make other major repairs. By early this year, he thought the future looked bright for oyster farmers. Now, he said, "I feel like the Louisiana oyster industry is done."

Moody's Analytics, a research firm, estimates that payroll employment along the Gulf, from Florida to Texas, in the fourth quarter will be 16,500 jobs lower than it would have been without the spill. That estimate, which excludes self-employed fishermen and others who don't show up on company payrolls, reflects some temporary jobs gained from cleanup work but more lost in businesses related to tourism, seafood production and oil and gas. The estimate assumes that the oil leak will be plugged by mid-August and the moratorium on oil drilling in deep waters will remain in place until December.

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