Rough seas hamper cleanup; Obama to visit Sunday
By ALLEN G. BREED, SETH BORENSTEIN
VENICE, La. - Gloom settled over the American coastline from Louisiana to Florida on Saturday as a massive oil slick spewing from a ruptured underwater well kept growing, and experts warned that an uncontrolled gusher could create a nightmare scenario if the Gulf Stream carries it toward the Atlantic.
President Barack Obama planned to visit the region Sunday to assess the situation amid criticism that the government and oil company BP PLC should have done more to stave off the disaster. Meanwhile, efforts to stem the flow and remove oil from the surface by skimming it, burning it or spiking it with chemicals to disperse it continued with little success.
"These people, we've been beaten down, disaster after disaster," said Matt O'Brien of Venice, whose fledgling wholesale shrimp dock business is under threat from the spill.
"They've all got a long stare in their eye," he said. "They come asking me what I think's going to happen. I ain't got no answers for them. I ain't got no answers for my investors. I ain't got no answers."
He wasn't alone. As the spill surged toward disastrous proportions, critical questions lingered: Who created the conditions that caused the gusher? Did BP and the government react robustly enough in its early days? And, most important, how can it be stopped before the damage gets worse?
Size of spill unknown
The Coast Guard conceded Saturday that it's nearly impossible to know how much oil has gushed since the April 20 rig explosion, after saying earlier it was at least 1.6 million gallons — equivalent to about 2½ Olympic-sized swimming pools. The blast killed 11 workers and threatened beaches, fragile marshes and marine mammals, along with fishing grounds that are among the world's most productive.
Even at that rate, the spill should eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident as the worst U.S. oil disaster in history within about a week. But a growing number of experts warned that the situation may already be much worse.