Cleanup ships idled as Alex roils Gulf region
Hurricane not near spill but seas high
GRAND ISLE, La. — The crashing waves and gusting winds churned up by what is now Hurricane Alex put the Gulf oil spill largely in Mother Nature’s hands yesterday. Regardless of whether the storm makes things worse or better, it has turned many people fighting the spill into spectators.
Oil-scooping ships in the Gulf of Mexico steamed to safe refuge because of the rough seas, which probably will last for days. Officials scrambled to reposition booms to protect the coast, and had to remove barges that had been blocking oil from reaching sensitive wetlands.
Alex is projected to stay far from the spill zone and is not expected to affect recovery efforts at the site of the blown offshore well that continues to spew crude, but the storm’s outer edges were causing problems. Waves were as high as 12 feet in parts of the gulf, according to the National Weather Service.
In at least one area of coastal Louisiana, the waves were tossing an oil-soaking boom around and forcing crews to take precious time putting it back in place. However, oily water was not crashing over it.
US Coast Guard Lieutenant Dave French said all skimming efforts had been halted for now off the Louisiana coast. Wayne Hebert, who helps manage skimming operations for
“Everyone is in because of weather, whether it’s thunderstorms or seas,’’ Hebert said.
Alex late yesterday had maximum sustained winds at 75 miles per hour. 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 tonight.
Meanwhile, the State Department announced yesterday that the United States is accepting help from 12 countries and international organizations in dealing with the massive oil spill.
The State Department said in a statement yesterday that the United States is working out the particulars of the help that’s been accepted.
The identities of all 12 countries and international organizations were not immediately announced. One country was cited in the State Department statement — Japan, which is providing two high-speed skimmers and fire containment boom.
More than 30 countries and international organizations have offered to help with the spill. The State Department hasn’t indicated why some offers have been accepted and others have not.
Farther inland yesterday, local officials worried the weather could hamper efforts to keep the oil out of Lake Pontchartrain, which has not been affected by the spill. The brackish body of water, connected to the gulf by narrow passes, is a recreational haven for the metropolitan New Orleans area.
Authorities worried that underwater currents and an easterly wind might drive a 250-square-mile oil slick north of the Chandeleur Islands toward the lake.
“We’re very concerned because of the weather,’’ said Suzanne Parsons, spokeswoman for St. Tammany Parish, which is on the north side of the lake. “That means they can’t get out and start working it. This may be the first test of our outer lines of defense.’’
Meanwhile, Jefferson Parish Council member Chris Roberts said the oil was entering passes yesterday 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.
“The barges are removed and the boom is being displaced in many areas,’’ Roberts said in an e-mail. “As weather conditions permit we are making progress with repositioning the boom.’’
The loss of skimming work combined with 25-mile-per-hour gusts driving water into the coast has left beaches vulnerable.