NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (AFP) Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Hurricane Alex disrupted the BP oil spill clean-up effort in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday as the storm gathered strength and was expected to make landfall.
US President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Texas as Alex strengthened into the first Atlantic hurricane of the season late Tuesday.
Alex was far from the epicenter of the clean-up operation off the Louisiana coast, but churned up waves and strong winds that forced the suspension of oil skimming and booming operations off the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama and Florida.
Two vessels continued to capture oil gushing from an undersea well 50 miles (80 kilometers) off Louisiana, where the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded ten weeks ago sparking the worst environmental disaster in US history.
Waves at the site were up to seven feet (two meters) high, a Coast Guard spokesman told AFP.
Coupled with winds of up to 22 knots it made it too rough for crews to deploy a third vessel, the Helix Producer, that was set to nearly double the capacity of BP’s containment system.
The current containment system is capturing nearly 25,000 of the estimated 30,000 to 60,000 barrels of crude spewing out of the ruptured well every day.
The rough seas have also shifted parts of the slick closer to sensitive areas in Florida and Louisiana, and could also push the oil deeper into fragile coastal wetlands.
Alex was set to make landfall late Wednesday south of the US border with Mexico, possibly as a Category Two hurricane, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.
The NHC said at 0900 GMT that Alex’s hurricane winds extended outward up to 25 miles (35 kilometers), and tropical storm force winds extending outward up to 200 miles (323 kilometers).
Obama’s emergency declaration for Texas was a green light for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate all disaster relief efforts, a White House statement said.
Vice President Joe Biden, who toured the disaster area on Tuesday, got an earful of complaints from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal about the slow federal response.
Some 413 miles (664 kilometers) of once-pristine shorelines have been oiled, as well as countless birds and other wildlife, since the rig sank on April 22.
Since then crude has gushed at an alarming rate, leaving the region’s vital fishing and tourism industries in tatters.
Meanwhile the State Department announced that the United States will accept offers from 12 foreign countries to help clean up and contain the spill.
Offers of boom have been accepted from Canada, Japan, Mexico and Norway; skimmers have been accepted from France, Japan, Mexico and Norway; and a sweeping arm system has been accepted from the Netherlands, a spokeswoman told AFP.
On his trip Biden was greeted by protesters holding signs reading “oil kills” as he entered a command center in New Orleans for an hour-long briefing before meeting with local fishermen.
Biden also traveled to the Florida panhandle, where the slick has forced authorities to close down some of the area’s fabled white sand beaches.
Jindal, a Republican critical of the federal response, asked Biden for help cutting through red tape and deploying more resources to keep the oil from coating fragile coastal wetlands and fishing grounds.
“The federal government needs to increase their sense of urgency,” Jindal said in a statement after meeting with Biden.
“They need to treat this spill like a war and get in it to win it. We’re here to defend our way of life.”
Jindal also said that he will ask BP for 400 million dollars to fund a 20 year program to rehabilitate fisheries and test Louisiana seafood for oil contamination.
“Our message to BP is that the cost of this program is just a fraction of the damages that could be caused if we don’t do this,” Jindal said.
An estimated 1.6 million to 3.6 million barrels of oil — or 67 million to 153 million gallons — have already poured into the Gulf from the ruptured wellhead some 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) below the surface.
BP hopes a new mooring system will make the containment cap deep down on the sea floor easier to disconnect and reconnect in the case of bad weather — a vital contingency as hurricane season gets into full swing.