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Aftermath From Hurricane Alex Continues to Hamper Oil Cleanup Efforts

July 1, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: Hurricane Alex was mostly history today, but its after-effects kept oil spill cleanup crews in port once again. As they waited to get back to work, the gusher in the Gulf reached a new milestone.

White-capped waves continued to buffet the Texas coast today, hours after the hurricane hit. Northern Mexico got the worst of the storm last night, with two people killed and the city of Monterrey largely shut down. Hundreds of miles to the east, the Gulf of Mexico was still too churned up today for oil-skimming boats or boom-laying operations.

In Washington, the man overseeing operations, Thad Allen, said they’re waiting for the all-clear. He spoke at the White House a day after retiring as a coast guard admiral.

ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, national incident commander: The small vessels that do the skimming have a difficult time operating out there. We had to pull them back. Same with the vessels operating in and around the well site itself. The drilling rigs were able to continue, but we are now massing our forces to be able to move right back out once the weather will allow us to get out on the water and skim.

JEFFREY BROWN: All indications were, the crews will have to wait a while yet. High waves as far away as Florida pushed oil past protective booms and on to beaches.

The weather didn’t prevent a huge oil skimming ship dubbed the A Whale from arriving at the spill site today. The former tanker was on its first mission after being retrofitted into the world’s largest oil skimmer. The hope is that it will soon gather 21 million gallons of oily water a day.

ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN: The owners made an offer to bring it down at their expense and have it operate in the Gulf area to see if it could be effective. We have worked with EPA and other regulatory agencies to give it a go, and it’s down in the area. It will be ready to operate in a couple of days.

JEFFREY BROWN: As if to underscore the need for giant skimmers, new estimates today put the spill as the largest ever in the Gulf of Mexico. Based on the high end of government figures, more than 140 million gallons of crude have spewed into the Gulf since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank in April.

That eclipses a spill off the Mexican coast in 1979 and 1980.