Gulf of Mexico Oil Hits Coast; White House Calls Spill Event of 'National Significance'

Oil from a massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico began to wash ashore along the Gulf Coast this evening after BP asked the U.S. government for help cleaning up the mess.

According to the Associated Press, faint fingers of oily sheen could be seen lapping at the Louisiana shoreline.

Earlier, BP asked the U.S. Department of Defense for advanced imaging technology and other equipment to help contain the spill, which the Obama administration labeled earlier today as an event of "national significance."

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said during the White House briefing that designating the spill as one of "national significance" means that "we can now draw down assets from across the country" to assist with cleanup.

She said 1,100 people are working on the cleanup effort, which so far has collected 685,000 gallons of oil and water from the polluted Gulf.

Earlier this afternoon, the Coast Guard had predicted that oil could begin to hit the Louisiana coastline as early as tonight. At the time, the floating oil slick was just 3 miles from land and 25 miles from the nearest populated area.

The White House said 174,060 feet of flotation booms had been deployed to corral the floating oil. It said an additional 243,260 feet is available and 265,460 feet has been ordered.

It said 76 tugs, barges and skimmers were on scene to help in containment and cleanup, along with six fixed-wing aircraft, 11 helicopters, 10 remotely operated vehicles, and two mobile offshore drilling units.

BP's chief operating officer, Doug Suttles, said the company has been reviewing research on using chemical dispersants to break up the oil -- pumping them all the way down to the leaking wellhead to keep the crude from reaching the surface.

That's been done before, but never at such depths. The wellhead is almost a mile underwater, 50 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry called it "a novel, absolutely novel idea."

At an afternoon event in the White House Rose Garden, President Obama said that the federal government is prepared to assist with cleanup efforts.

"While BP is ultimately responsible for funding the cost of response and cleanup operations, my administration will continue to use every single available resource at our disposal, including potentially the Department of Defense to address the incident," Obama said.

"I have ordered the secretaries of the Interior and Homeland Security, as well as administrator Lisa Jackson of the Environmental Protection Agency, to visit the site on Friday to ensure that BP and the entire U.S. government is doing everything possible not just to respond to this incident but also to determine its cause," the president said.

Louisiana Declares State of Emergency

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency today because of the oil slick.

Meanwhile, Louisiana shrimpers filed a class-action lawsuit against BP, the owners of the oil rig, and Halliburton, which they say was working to cement the rig's well and well-cap. The suit claimed that these companies and others were negligent in allowing the explosion that led to the spill, which they claim now threatens their livelihoods. They are asking for damages of at least $5 million.

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