GRAND ISLE, La. (AP) - Rough seas generated by Hurricane Alex
pushed more oil from the massive spill onto Gulf Coast beaches
Wednesday as cleanup vessels were sidelined by the faraway storm's
The hurricane was churning coastal waters across the
oil-affected region on the Gulf of Mexico. Six-foot waves and 25
mph winds were forecast through Thursday just offshore from the
Mississippi Delta in Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle.
In Louisiana, the storm pushed an oil patch toward Grand Isle
and uninhabited Elmer's Island, dumping tar balls as big as apples
on the beach. Cleanup workers were kept at bay by pouring rain and
lightning that zigzagged across the dark sky. Boom lining the beach
had been tossed about, and it couldn't be put back in place until
the weather cleared.
"The sad thing is that it's been about three weeks since we had
any big oil come in here," marine science technician Michael
Malone said. "With this weather, we lost all the progress we
The loss of dozens of skimmers, combined with gusts driving
water into the coast, left beaches especially vulnerable.
Large waves churned up by Hurricane Alex left Alabama beaches
splattered with oil and tar balls Wednesday, even with Alex more
than 500 miles away as it approached the Texas-Mexico coast. Long
stretches were stained brown as far as 60 yards from the edge of
Oil deposits appeared worse than in past days, and local
officials feared the slowdown would make matters worse as tourists
come to the beach for the July Fourth holiday.
"I'm real worried about what is going to happen with those
boats not running. It can't help," said Orange Beach Mayor Tony
The nasty weather will likely linger in the Gulf through
Thursday, National Weather Service meteorologist Brian LaMarre
In Florida, tar lumps the size of dinner plates filled a large
swath of beach east of Pensacola in Navarre Beach after rough waves
brought the mess ashore. Wind and rain kept crews from cleaning the
"The weather has hampered the cleanup. Our night crews went out
there to try and verify exactly how much it was and it's about half
a mile," said Santa Rosa County spokeswoman Joy Tsubooka.
She said cleanup crews would work throughout the day Wednesday,
but lightning and rain from expected thunderstorms could slow the
Officials scrambled to reposition boom to protect the coast and
had to remove barges barricading oil from sensitive wetlands. Those
operations could soon get a boost. The U.S. accepted offers of help
from 12 countries and international organizations. Japan, for
instance, was sending two skimmers and boom.
Alex is projected to stay far from the spill zone off the
Louisiana coast. It is not expected to affect work at the site of
the blown-out well. But the storm's outer edges complicated the
Early Wednesday, Alex had maximum sustained winds near 80 mph
(130 kph). The National Hurricane Center said the Category 1 storm
is the first June Atlantic hurricane since 1995. It is on track for
the Texas-Mexico border region and expected to make landfall
As Alex approached, skimming efforts off the coasts of
Louisiana, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi had mostly stopped.
BP's disaster response plan for a spill didn't mention
hurricanes or tropical storms, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said
Wednesday during a congressional hearing. He said the omission is
yet another example of what the oil giant was not prepared to
At the main staging area for oil cleanup efforts around Grand
Isle, stacks of boom, bottled water, ice chests and cleaning
materials stood ready to load up when the work restarted.
Brothers Otis and Vahn Butler of Houma got jobs there just three
"We've been steady busy until today," Otis Butler said
Tuesday. "Now we're mostly standing around and looking around. We
just find things to do when we can today. But once this is over, I
bet we'll be twice as busy."
The rough seas and winds aren't all bad, though - scientists
have said they could help break apart the oil and make it evaporate
The wave action, combined with dispersants sprayed by the Coast
Guard, have helped break a 6-by-30-mile oil patch into smaller
patches, Coast Guard Cmdr. Joe Higgens said.
Jefferson Parish Council member Chris Roberts said the oil was
entering passes Tuesday at Barataria Bay, home to diverse wildlife.
A day earlier, barges that had been placed in the bay to block the
oil were removed because of rough seas. Boom was being displaced
and had to be repositioned, he said in an e-mail.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and
Enforcement - formerly the Minerals Management Service said 28
platforms and three rigs in the path of the storm in the western
Gulf have been evacuated.
Still in the water are vessels being used to capture or burn
spewing oil and gas and those drilling relief wells that officials
say are the best hope for stopping the leak for good.
A third vessel that would ramp up how much oil is being captured
or burned was delayed by the weather, said the government's point
man for the spill, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen. It was expected to
be done this week, but now won't be online until next week.
Hurricane warnings were posted for parts of the coast along
Mexico and Texas. Except for the border area itself, though, most
of the warning area is lightly populated.
So far, between 70.8 million gallons and 137.6 million of oil
have spewed into the Gulf from the broken BP well, according to
government and BP estimates. The higher estimate is enough oil to
fill half of New York's Empire State Building with oil.