Oil Rig Cook Haunted by Nightmares Since Blast

Oil rig sinks off the Gulf of Mexico, April 22, 2010 Edison Chouest Offshore

Oleander Benton, a cook on an oil rig that exploded off the Louisiana coast, was sitting at a laundry room table with a friend when the lights went out. Then, there was the blast.

The Deepwater Horizon platform shuddered, debris fell from the ceiling and Benton hit the floor, as she had been trained to do. She scrambled through hallways littered with rubble, following a man in a white T-shirt.

"I could not see anything but that man. He just kept on saying 'Come this way, come that way.' It was like he was coaching me to my lifeboat, because I couldn't see," she said.

She made it across the sweltering, mud-caked deck to a lifeboat - one of 115 people to safely escape the platform after the explosion a week ago. Eleven others are missing and presumed dead.

Benton, 52, recalled her tale as crews used a remote sub to try to shut off an underwater oil well that's gushing 42,000 gallons a day from the site of the wrecked drilling platform. If crews cannot stop the leak quickly, they might need to drill another well to redirect the oil, a process that could take about two months while oil washes up along a broad stretch of shore, from the white-sand beaches of Florida's Panhandle to the swamps of Louisiana.

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The oil, which could reach shore in as little as three days, is escaping from two leaks in a drilling pipe about 5,000 feet below the surface.

Nightmares have haunted Benton since the explosion April 20. She remembers following the man who knew his way around the platform, which is about the size of two football fields. She stumbled as he led her to the deck.

"Mud was everywhere ... This was mud that was shooting up from the well. It was oily mud, real oily," she said.

The fire made the already muggy night almost unbearable. Benton's name was checked off as she boarded a lifeboat, then there was a roll call to make sure everyone was accounted for.

"It looked like it was taking forever to get that boat in the water," she said, but "I think that's just because I was so anxious to go."

Benton didn't want to discuss her injuries, other than to say that she was bruised. Her attorney, Stephen Rue, said she was having trouble sleeping and is suffering symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome. She has not yet filed a lawsuit in the case.

As of Tuesday morning, oil that leaked from the rig site was spread over an area about 48 miles long and 80 miles wide at its widest. The borders of the spill were uneven, making it difficult to calculate how many square miles are covered, Coast Guard Petty Officer Erik Swanson said.
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