“We’re enjoying every minute of it, but we don’t know how long it’s going to last,” said Bob Barnett of Pell City, who is vacationing in Pensacola, Fla., with his wife, Carole
Barnett, an engineer and avid sailor and boat builder, said preparations are under way along the Florida coast for one of the worst oil spills in U.S. history.
“What we’re hearing is that nobody has quite got a handle on this,” Barnett said of the oil spill that’s pumping an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Associated Press. “Within the next 90 days, it could be a real major disaster.”
Just down the coast, a group of Pell City women arrived in Orange Beach Sunday and Monday.
“The coast is clear,” and no oil is to be found, they said. “We have blue skies, blue water and white beaches,” said Diane Savage of Pell City.
Savage, Jan Pilgreen Scott, Cathy Funderburg Parker, Joanie Gann, Karen Tucker Sullivan and Tanga St. John, are enjoying themselves on the beaches along the Alabama coast this week.
Their timing has put them ahead of a slick of oil that covers hundreds of miles of ocean.
Only a few days ago, officials estimated the oil would reach landfall in Alabama today, but apparently winds held the oil slick at bay from Alabama and Florida coastlines.
U.S. Coast Guard petty officer Connie Terrell, who is with the Deep Water Horizon Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Joint Information Center, said Tuesday the oil is 5-10 miles off the coast of Louisiana.
That’s not far from where a semi-submersible drilling rig caught fire April 21, and later sank 130 miles southeast of New Orleans. The hole left by the Transocean Deepwater Horizon drilling rig continues to pump thousands of gallons of crude oil each day into the Gulf of Mexico.
Barnett, like others, said he will most likely have to pull his sail boat from the water and pay to have it placed in dry storage.
The oil, he said, can damage a ship’s hull. It can also damage the engine, cooling and refrigeration systems of a sailing vessel.
“You can’t leave a boat in the water with that stuff,” Barnett said.
He said boat owners are already starting to remove boats from Gulf and Pensacola Bay waters in anticipation of oil drifting west toward the Florida coastline.
“Fishermen are the one’s who are hurting for sure,” Barnett said.
According to federal officials, NOAA is restricting fishing for a minimum of 10 days in federal waters most affected by the BP oil spill. The closure is largely between Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River to waters off Florida’s Pensacola Bay.
Barnett said lines have formed at fresh seafood markets in the Pensacola area.
“There are lines out the door with people buying seafood,” Barnett said. “People are putting seafood into their freezers because they are afraid it could be a while before they see fresh seafood again.”
He said a north wind has helped keep the oil spill west of the Alabama and Florida coastlines and away from other Gulf Coast state coastlines.
“The southwest winds are generally worse in May and June,” Barnett said. “When the southwest winds come back, it could become a problem.”
Charlie Henry, scientific support coordinator for NOAA, said Tuesday officials expect southwest winds to return today, but it should be “light” southwest winds.
“It should be a light wind, not a 20-25 knot wind we saw over the weekend,” Henry said.
He said calm seas and improved weather conditions will help cleanup efforts, adding that officials only expect 2-feet swells during the next few days.
He said good weather conditions provide a “gift of time” for cleanup crews.
Federal officials say there are nine staging areas set up to protect vital shoreline along Gulf Coast states, including one at Dauphin Island and another at Pensacola, Fla.
Federal officials also say to date more than one million gallons of an oil-water mix is recovered, and hundreds of thousands of feet of boom (barrier) was deployed to contain the spill.