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oil-soaked bird gets treatment Members of Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research and the International Bird Research Center treat an oil-soaked Northern Gannet bird at a cleaning facility in Louisiana on Saturday, May 1, 2010. (Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

Gulf Coast Oil-Spill Disaster

Workers at sea and on land ramp up efforts to deal with the effects of a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

By Laura Leigh Davidson | null null , null
<p>Top: Fishermen lay oil booms off the coast of Louisiana on Sunday, May 2, 2010. (Photo: Gerald Herbert/AP Images)</p><p>Map: Jim McMahon. </p>

Top: Fishermen lay oil booms off the coast of Louisiana on Sunday, May 2, 2010. (Photo: Gerald Herbert/AP Images)

Map: Jim McMahon.

A massive oil slick from an offshore oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico has made its way to the shores of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Workers on land and in the water are working to contain the rust-colored oil that is harming wildlife and the economy of the area.

The oil is coming from a badly damaged oil rig, a large, offshore platform where workers drill oil wells in the ocean floor. The rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 people. It overturned and sank into the ocean two days later. More than 200,000 gallons of oil a day have been gushing from its underwater pipelines since the explosion. So far, efforts to stop the oil spill at its source have failed.

The oil-polluted waters are already affecting area wildlife. More and more oil-soaked birds are being seen. Lifeless sea turtles and other water-dwellers have started to wash up on area beaches.

The U.S. government has ordered all fishing stopped for at least 10 days because the fish caught in the polluted waters may not be safe to eat. Forty percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. comes from the Gulf of Mexico. Fishing is a very important industry in the area—many people make their living on boats.

President Sees Oil Spill Firsthand

President Barack Obama has declared the oil spill a national disaster. This declaration allows resources from the federal government to be used in combating the catastrophe. On Sunday, he toured the area of the Louisiana coast hardest hit by the oil slick in a helicopter. The President then met with local, state, and federal officials involved in the cleanup.

Obama told reporters that he and those involved in the cleanup were "not going to rest" until the leak is stopped and the oil spill is contained.

"We will spare no resource to clean up whatever damage is caused," he said.

Cleanup and Containment Efforts

British Petroleum (BP), the energy company that operated the destroyed oil rig, has been scrambling to contain the oil spill at its source. But all efforts to stop the flow of oil from the ocean floor have failed. Engineers sent underwater robots to try to stop the leaks. But even that advanced technology has had no luck.

BP says the best hope to stop the gusher is to dig a second "relief well" to cut off the damaged one. The company has started work on the second well, but drilling on the ocean floor takes time. In addition to the relief well, BP engineers hope to place a dome over one of the leaks to contain some of the gushing oil within the next 10 days.

Workers are trying to stop the advancing tide of oil on the surface with thousands of floating barriers called oil booms. These floating barriers can corral and concentrate oil on the surface of the water so that ships can remove the oil.

But so far, high winds and choppy seas have kept the booms from being as effective as hoped.

A Disaster for Animals, People, and Business

Environmental organizations are stepping in to rescue animals affected by the oil slick. Oil can be poisonous to animals if they swallow it or get covered in the sticky substance. Treatment areas and washing stations have been set up around Gulf areas to help area wildlife that is affected. The oil spill threatens about 400 animal species, including whales, tuna, shrimp, and dozens of species of birds.

The oil spill is unsafe for people too. Residents of coastal areas have reported foul smells coming from the waters that surround their homes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun testing the safety of the air.

Experts think the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf will have effects on wildlife, the environment, and the economy for years to come. It is hard to tell exactly how bad the damage will be in the long term, as the first waves of the slick are just now reaching land.

President Obama says the government is committed to dealing with the oil spill on all fronts.

"Every American affected by this spill should know this: Your government will do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to stop this crisis," he said on Sunday. "That's a commitment I'm making as President of the United States."

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