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Tropical Storm Lee threatens La. oyster industry

Motivatit Seafoods, Inc., a seafood processing company, plans to halt production of oysters like these until the state reopens its harvesting areas.
CBS

Louisiana businesses have been forced to adapt to life after disaster many times in the last few years, from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to the massive cleanup of the BP Deep Water Horizon disaster. Now, the oyster harvesting industry is facing a new crisis due to flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee.

Houma, La., is home to one of the largest oyster processing plants in the state. Charlene Foxall has been an employee there for six years. But she's concerned there soon may not be enough oysters to keep her employed.

Foxall said she's scared because she's the only provider for her children.

"If there's no work how I'm supposed to feed my family," Foxall told CBS News' Bigad Shaban.

The company Foxall works for, Motivatit Seafoods, recently received its last batch of oysters, which was expected to run out in just a day.

On "The Early Show," Shaban reported the lack of oysters has to do with the flood waters left behind by Lee. Fearing sewage contamination from flooded septic tanks, Louisiana on Friday closed all 28 of the state's oyster harvesting areas, stretching over some 400,000 acres.

Mike Voisin, Motivatit Seafoods CEO, says his eight-generation family business is stuck in limbo.

Voisin said, "So far, we're probably in the $10,000 to $15,000 loss range. If it continues on a week or two, it could get in the hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Voisin plans to shut down much of the facility until the oyster beds reopen. He says most of the state's 43 other processing plants are likely to do the same, telling workers to stay home indefinitely.

Voisin says 80 to 90 percent of his employees will soon be gone. Foxall worries she's a part of that number -- and won't be able to afford her rent.

She told Shaban, "This month is paid, but next month, you know, what am I to do next month, I don't know. I guess time will tell."

Even though the Louisiana Department of Health told CBS News it hasn't found any signs of contamination, getting boats back on the water and oysters back on the belts could take days.

So, while the flood waters slowly recede, the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee are still felt on shore -- at the oyster plant, it leaves dozens of jobs dried up.