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Hurricane Alex Hinders Oil Cleanup Efforts in Gulf

June 30, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: The first hurricane of the Atlantic season bore down today on the Texas/Mexico border region. It was far from the scene of the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but it still disrupted containment and cleanup efforts.

Hurricane Alex whipped up waves today from Tampico, Mexico, 200 miles south of the border, all the way up to Port Isabel, Texas, and beyond.

MAN: Most of the island is evacuated now.

JEFFREY BROWN: As the center of the storm approached, business owners stocked up on plywood, making ready for heavy rain and winds topping 85 miles an hour.

The worst effects were expected on the Mexican side, as the hurricane heads inland over the next 24 hours. But the sheer reach of Alex extended hundreds of miles north and east, toward the site of the oil spill. Six-foot waves and winds of 25 miles an hour pushed more tar balls and patches of oil ashore from the Mississippi Delta to Florida, overwhelming protective booms and cleanup crews.

MAN: It’s definitely the last thing that we want to have to deal with.

JEFFREY BROWN: The rough weather also forced oil-skimming vessels and protective barges to retreat to port. Without those tools, National Guard helicopters dropped in sandbags in a further effort to shield Louisiana’s coastline.

In Washington, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen warned the storm could drive oil deeper into sensitive wetlands.

ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, national incident commander: Well, we fully expect that if there’s a 2 or 3 storm surge, we could see oil moving further inland or into marshes where we hadn’t experienced that before. We have skimming task forces standing by ready to be deployed as soon as the weather abates. And we will be out there hitting it hard.

JEFFREY BROWN: At the same time, Coast Guard officials said heavy waves are helping to break up some of the oil out in the Gulf. The storm didn’t affect the operation capturing oil at the wellhead, 50 miles offshore, but it did delay the arrival of another ship to help increase the amount collected.

In the meantime, a new plan was in the works to save sea turtles endangered by the oil. It involved moving 70,000 eggs to Florida’s Atlantic coast. For now, though, the focus was on how the year’s first hurricane has set back efforts to battle the spill, and the fear that more storms are still to come.