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Exxon Valdez: A Decade Later

On Prince William Sound, the flashing light at Bligh Reef now serves as an historical marker of sorts: the place where the Exxon Valdez ran aground causing the nation's worst oil spill ever.

Nancy Bird, a Cordova resident, says "A lot of us speak in terms of time pre-spill and post-spill."

In a measure of how the spill affected lives here, schoolchildren too young to have seen the spill are drawing pictures to mark its anniversary.

Susan Ogle, also of Cordova, says the children "hear these stories, and it shows that the communities were all greatly effected by this. It's not just wildlife that suffered in the spill. The people of the sound were hurt too."

Dennis Kelso was Alaska's cleanup coordinator. He says, "There's still a real sense of violation for having an event occur that's really changed their community life."

The fishing industry here has come close to collapse, reports CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone. Scientists say many species including sea otters have not fully recovered.

Exxon, however, says the sound is healthy, robust and thriving.

There's one lesson from 1989 that no one disputes: preventing an oil spill is a lot cheaper than trying to clean one up. The oil industry now spends some $60 million a year making sure tankers get through Prince William Sound safely.

Powerful tugs escort tankers in the sound. Oil-spill skimmers are on constant standby.

Vince Mitchell of the Alyeska Pipeline Company, says "We have the greatest amount of oil-spill equipment of any location in the world."

The need for caution is clear: even after a decade, some oil from the Exxon Valdez remains on the rocks and beaches.

Kelso says "Some places that oil was three-feet deep on the beach. I thought there was a chance it would continue to be present. But it's going in the right direction. Is it a closed book at this point? Of course not."

Prince William Sound is still recovering. And many who live here are still hurting.