MIAMI: The governors of the US state of Florida and Louisiana declared a state of emergency on Friday as a massive oil slick from a sunken rig in the Gulf of Mexico headed for the coast.
Florida Governor Charlie Crist and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal called for urgent help to prevent “catastrophic loss” of vital spawning grounds and fishing communities from pollution on a massive scale. In Florida the declaration, which affects the Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, and Gulf counties, will qualify the state to receive federal aid. Jindal also sought the mobilisation of 6,000 National Guard troops to respond to the crisis.
With up to 200,000 gallons of oil a day spewing into the Gulf of Mexico from a ruptured well, the accident may soon rival the Exxon Valdez disaster as the worst oil spill in US history. Strong southeast winds blew the first oily strands directly onto the coastal wetlands of South Pass near the mouth of the Mississippi river late Thursday Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, where oil washed ashore, told a news agency. A massive deployment of Coast Guard and private crews scrambled to contain the oil, fighting choppy seas that made the task more difficult.
Hundreds of miles of coastline were under imminent threat in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.The region is a prime spawning ground for fish and a major stop for migratory birds. “For birds, the timing could not be worse; they are breeding, nesting and especially vulnerable in many of the places where the oil could come ashore,” said Melanie Driscoll of the Audubon Society, a nature conservancy group. Rear Admiral Sally Brice O’Hara of the US Coast Guard said the effort was continuing on several fronts.
“Our first priority is to get it stemmed at the source, but that is ongoing with all of these surface efforts at sea. And now our focus has turned to the shoreline. We’ve 180,000 feet of boom deployed,” she told CNN. The Coast Guard was coordinating vessels including 76 boats and 17 aircraft. The boats include skimmers, tug boats and robotic submarines, which are investigating the underwater damage.