No oil expected to hit Florida beaches this week
TAMPA - No additional oil from the Gulf of Mexico spill will wash up on the Panhandle and other Florida beaches because of a combination of westerly winds and the newly-capped gusher, state officials say. If the favorable weather holds, no oil sheens are expected to stain Pensacola's sugar-white beaches for at least a week, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole said at a news conference this morning. "Most of the oil is significantly offshore-about 85 miles," Sole said. "There are no expected impacts to Florida shorelines this entire week. Still, we're going to be ready . . . until all this oil is gone." U.S. Coast Guard Commander Joe Boudrow, who oversees the spill response in the Panhandle, said aircraft scanning Florida shorelines have confirmed that there are "no oil sightings in Florida as of this morning."Sole said oil from the broken well no longer looks like it will enter a current in the Gulf that could have sent slicks and tar balls toward the Florida Keys. The so-called loop current has moved farther west and surface sheens of oil are now about 300 miles away from it, Sole said. The favorable forecast for Florida gives volunteers more time to clean affected areas, officials said. About 2,600 people participated in clean up efforts in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties on Sunday, Sole said. Workers have been scooping up oil-soaked sand, which is then sent to a solid waste plant where the sludge can be separated, he said. Officials said they hope the sand can be eventually returned to the beaches. So far, about 2,400 bags of material, totaling some 36,000 pounds, have been hauled away, Sole said. More than 481,000 feet of boom has been deployed off the Pensacola coast to contain the oil while about 30 boats skim the sheen from the surface, Boudrow said. Volunteers have found 23 turtles and 316 birds along the Panhandle tainted by oil, he said. Many of those animals were dead or had to be euthanized. About 40 birds and 20 turtles are being rehabilitated, Sole said. Between 94 million and 184 million gallons have poured into the Gulf since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 people.
Reporter Ray Reyes can be reached at (813) 259-7920.