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Commentary: A holiday beach gets a deadly brown bath from BP's oil spill

GRAND ISLE, La. — The first wave of oil swept onto the beach. The tourists swept out.

The few people who bothered to visit Grand Isle Beach Friday came out of morbid curiosity, to see the proliferating drips and blotches and puddles and pools the color of Coca-Cola.

"My God, our beach should be crowded, the start of a big weekend," said Lynette Anderson, surveying the ruinous mess along the surf line. "We kept hoping it was going to miss us. Should have known better."

The gooey, adhesive stuff portended an economic disaster for Grand Isle, the only inhabited island on Louisiana's Gulf Coast. Tourists keep this beach town alive. The tourists had vanished.

"All of them canceled on me," said Lisa Rhobus, who runs the Cajun Holiday Motel. Every room had been booked for the weekend, but her parking lot was empty Friday afternoon.

Grand Isle, a mile wide, hardly eight miles long, offers a brutal model in miniature of what a giant oil spill brings to a tourism economy built around the beach and the sea. The town, with only 1,500 permanent residents, lives off the 300,000 visitors a year who come to fish and swim and play on the beach and bath in the Gulf of Mexico waters. None of that was evident Friday.

"The only paying people I have at Cajun Holiday are workers helping with the clean-up,'' Rhobus said. "This could just about kill Grand Isle."

If the nation wants to regard Grand Isle as a laboratory to study the effects on tourism from that dark swill vomiting up from the wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon, early indications look damn near fatal. Grand Isle's mayor closed the beach Friday afternoon but his order was not much more than an empty gesture. An obvious question hung over a mostly empty strand: Closed to whom?

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