There is growing fear that the oil-polluted waters could soon spread beyond the boundaries of the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the tourism industry along the eastern Florida coast.
Government forecasters now say there's up to an 80 percent chance that the massive spill will reach the waters off Miami by the middle of August, caught in the loop current around Florida and then pushed northward up the state's east coast at a rate of 100 miles per day.
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"Just because it's not happening now, it's still prudent to plan that there is a possibility for that to happen," warned NOAA scientist Debbie Payton today.
If it gets in the loop current, the oil would bypass Florida's west coast, but it would thread through the delicate environment of the Florida Keys before moving toward Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. Most forecasts anticipate that Louisiana will continue to be besieged by the oil, though Texas will be spared.
NOAA officials say that Miami would see weathered tarballs, not thick blankets of oil, but that type of material has already been enough to sap places like Dauphin Island, Ala. of beachgoers.
Along the Gulf Coast, it should have been a fun holiday weekend with free-spending tourists packing the beaches, but instead cleanup crews patrol the sand.
Dauphin Island real estate agent Amy Vice said bookings have dropped dramatically.
"Last year this time I had 111," Vice said. "We've got ten coming in tomorrow.
Vice said that most of her day is spent sifting through cancellations.
"I'm afraid that what's going to happen is once it is capped and it's finished and cleaned up, people won't come back," Vice said. "We have a lot of repeat customers and they're trying to keep with us, but they are afraid to bring their families down here."
Overall holiday rentals are off by 80 percent on the island, and next door in Mississippi, tourism is off by 50 percent. Businesses along the Florida panhandle expected a record year in 2010, but not anymore.
Restaurateurs also say they're doing half the business they were a year ago, and there's no sign of things improving on this holiday.
"We're doing a fraction of what we did last year," said Adam Almord, owner of the Common Loon cafe on Dauphin Island. "The support we're getting is strictly through locals" and cleanup crews, he said.
The rituals of the 4th of July have been stripped away, too, in communities along the Gulf. There will be no fireworks on Dauphin Island or on Grand Isle, La., where Dodi and Buggie Vegas have cancelled their annual display.
"We have families that have been coming since I was a little bitty girl that we have watched grow up that just aren't going to be here," said Vegas.