Hurricane Alex (soon to be named) halts skimming operations off Gulf Coast
Hurricane Alex (expected to be named) has churned up rough seas and powerful winds enough to halt oil-skimming operations in the Gulf of Mexico.
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Hebert said it was impossible to say when the work might resume.Skip to next paragraph
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"I don't control the weather," he said.
Pulling boats and crews off the water could cost precious time, said Nancy Kinner, co-director of the Coastal Response Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. Equipment has to be stripped down, packed and protected from the force of the storm, and then has to be reassembled and deployed again, she said.
Despite the setbacks, the rough weather could give nature a hand in breaking down crude from the spill that's spilled as much as 137.6 million gallons of oil into the Gulf.
High waves could help break up the patches of oil scattered across the sea. The higher-than-normal winds that radiate far from the storm also could help the crude evaporate faster.
As Alex steamed closer to land, a hurricane warning was posted for the Texas coast from Baffin Bay, 100 miles (160 kilometers) south to the mouth of the Rio Grande river; and for an additional 225 miles (360 kilometers) south to La Cruz, Mexico. Except for the border area itself, both regions are lightly populated.
Workers along the South Texas coast were clearing drainage ditches, filling sandbags, positioning heavy equipment and water pumps, and preparing emergency shelters. Some cities also handed out sandbags to residents and urged people to make preparations.
Forecasters said rain from Alex would keep falling on southern Mexico and Guatemala into Tuesday, raising the possibility of life-threatening floods and mudslides.
All of the uncertainty of what Alex and other storms could do to BP's containment effort gave new urgency to the company's efforts to make its operations at the well as hurricane-resistant as possible.
The company said it hopes to install a new oil-capturing system by next week that would allow BP to disconnect the equipment faster if a hurricane threatens and hook it back up quickly after the storm passes. Right now, BP would need five days to pull out if there is a hurricane. The new system being developed, which uses a flexible hose, would cut that to two days.
The containment system now in place is capturing nearly 1 million gallons per day from the well, which is spewing as much as 2.5 million gallons a day, according to the government's worst-case estimate.
Meanwhile Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden was visiting officials and residents on the Gulf Coast. In New Orleans, he said federal and state officials would use a single, uniform safety standard for seafood coming out of the Gulf. The goal is to quickly reopen closed fishing areas.
Biden said he knows that it's "going to be a lean summer and a lean fall" for the region's fishermen.
"A job is a lot more than about a paycheck," he said. "It's about dignity. It's about respect. ... In your case, it's a way of life."