Barbour seeks aid as storm moves in

Published 12:02 pm Monday, June 28, 2010

The admiral in charge of the spill response was headed back to the Gulf Coast a day after Mississippi’s governor said he would press BP and the federal government for more help because oil started washing up on the shoreline of his state.

Meanwhile, a tropical storm farther south in the Gulf threatened to push oil from the spill farther inland.

Tropical Storm Alex’s center wasn’t expected to approach the area of the oil spill off Louisiana’s coast, said Stacy Stewart, senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. But Alex’s outer wind field could push oil from the spill farther inland and hinder operations in the area, Stewart said early today.

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Forecasters also said Alex could become a hurricane later today or Tuesday.

On Sunday, oil was found in at least two areas of Jackson County in Mississippi, and emergency management director Donald Langham said tar balls and a patch of oil were spotted at the St. Andrews beach and at the Lake Mars pier in Gulf Park Estates.

The state had been mostly spared the oily mess from the blown-out undersea well that has spewed anywhere between 69 million and 131 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico the past 10 weeks.

“While command and control of on-water resources has improved, it must get much better and the amount of resources to attack the oil offshore must be greatly increased,” Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said in an e-mailed statement Sunday. BP said it would work with officials to get the necessary help in place.

So far, deadly Tropical Storm Alex that moved into the Gulf on Sunday after dumping rains across Belize and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula was not expected to cross the oil spill.

Still, Florida Department of Emergency Management meteorologist Amy Godsey said rough waves churned by the storm would disrupt efforts to corral and burn surface oil and will likely push more oil and tar onto Panhandle beaches throughout the week.

Adm. Thad Allen was expected to be in New Orleans today and talk to the media about the latest on the spill. Allen has received some criticism from local officials who feel he might not be the right man to head the team. He has not responded to the criticism.

Also today, BP denied its embattled chief executive was resigning as the first tropical storm to hit the Gulf of Mexico this year threatened to disrupt cleanup work on its massive oil spill, even from a distance.

Russia’s state RIA Novosti news agency quoted a senior Russian Cabinet official as saying that BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward was expected to resign.

It quoted Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, who was set to meet with Hayward today, as saying that Hayward would introduce his successor.

“Hayward is leaving his post, he will introduce his successor,” Sechin was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti.

BP spokeswoman Carolyn Copland in London said the report “is definitely not correct.”

Hayward was to assure Russian officials of BP’s viability and discuss issues related to Russian joint venture TNK-BP, which accounts for about a quarter of BP’s reserves and production.

For some, the relentless spill is bringing back feelings that are far too familiar still dealing with the physical and emotional toll wrought by Hurricane Katrina five years ago. Shrimper Ricky Robin is haunted by memories of riding out the hurricane on his trawler and of his father’s suicide in the storm’s aftermath.

“I can’t sleep at night. I find myself crying sometimes,” said Robin, of Violet, a blue-collar community on the southeastern edge of the New Orleans suburbs, along the highway that hugs the levee on the Mississippi River’s east bank nearly all the way to the Gulf.

Psychiatrists who treated people after Katrina and have held group sessions in oil spill-stricken areas say the symptoms showing up are much the same: Anger. Anxiety. Drinking. Depression. Suicidal thoughts.

“Everybody’s acting strange,” said Robin, 56. “Real angry, frustrated, stressed out, fighting brothers and sisters and mamas and family.”

Fishing families, the backbone of the coastal economy, are especially hard-pressed as the waters that make up their livelihood are sporadically closed because of fears the oil will taint fish, oysters and shrimp.

Oil field workers, whose salaries are among the best the region can offer, worry about their industry’s long-term future.

And there is still the rebuilding after Katrina.

The helplessness, coupled with the uncertainty about what’s going to happen with the spill and when the next check from BP PLC will arrive, leaves boat captain George Pfeiffer angry all the time.

“Our families want to know what’s going on,” said Pfeiffer, 55, who keeps two charter boats at Zeke’s Landing.