Special Reports

Florida beaches oil-pollution free for Memorial Day

Favorable currents and winds continued to keep the oil catastrophe away from Florida's shores, the state reported Saturday, saying the first possibility of contamination was 72 hours away.

``Currently, there have been no confirmed oil impacts to Florida's more than 1,260 miles of coastline and 825 miles of sandy beaches,'' said an 11 a.m. update from the state's Department of Environmental Protection.

Winds and currents ``continue to keep the plume away from the Florida coast for at least the next 72 hours.''

In the Gulf of Mexico, meantime, environmental officials estimated the spill to be continuing at a rate of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels per day even as BP tried to stop it with a so-called ``top kill'' technique.

The idea is to pump heavy drilling mud into the breach, followed by cement, to stop the oil discharge.

Florida reports that it has placed an estimated 239,650 feet of boom along its coast, and has 16,500 feet on standby, since the April 20 explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig.

The figure is a minute fraction of the total reported from response headquarters in Louisiana as having been deployed in the Gulf Coast region -- nearly 1.83 million feet.

BP executive Doug Suttles said Friday that cleanup and containment efforts would continue through the Memorial Day weekend. The response headquarters estimated that there were more than 1,400 vessels on the job Saturday.

It also published a new, complex map updating the situation in the Gulf on its website. Click here to view the map.

BP's Gulf of Mexico response website offered no new updates on its ``top kill'' efforts beyond a statement posted Friday that said they were continuing.

Suttles had vowed Friday evening to ``continue this operation as long as is necessary -- until we're either successful with it or we're convinced it won't succeed.'' The attempt, he said, could continue both Saturday and Sunday.

He declined to say how much mud had been pumped into the well in on-again, off-again efforts since Wednesday. But he did say that while mud was being pumped in, less oil and gas spilled out.

Suttles also said there were attempts at a so-called ``junk shot'' -- pumping debris into the breach -- but would provide no volume or number of attempts.

Coast Guard Read Adm. Mary Landry acknowledged during a briefing on the eve of the Memorial Day weekend that this was ``the largest spill in U.S. history'' -- with a new estimate of 18.6 million to 29 million gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf eclipsing the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.

One focus of Florida's response is to keep up the mantra that the state's coasts are unmarred by the oil disaster.

In that regard, President Barack Obama lent a hand in a visit to Louisiana on Friday, underscoring that across the Gulf region only three beaches, all in that state, were closed due to contamination.

``One of the powerful ways that you can help the Gulf right now is to visit the communities and the beaches off the coast,'' the president said.

Other portions of the Sunshine State's oil spill response bulletin on Saturday noted:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued an announcement on Friday that 25 percent of the Gulf of Mexico was off limits to fishing to safeguard the seafood supply. But the closure zone was far from the Florida shoreline.

Both residents and nonresidents in Florida can fish for saltwater species around the state without a license during that period. The idea is to help draw visitors to the Sunshine State.

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