BP Oil Spill Cleanup on Hold as Hurricane Alex Hits Mexico and South Texas

Obama Admin. misses June containment deadline, approves use of dispersant.

June 30, 2010, 4:51 PM

June 30, 2010— -- The first Atlantic hurricane of the season has made landfall in northeastern Mexico.

Hurricane Alex, a Category 2 storm in the Gulf of Mexico, has churned up winds of nearly 105 mph (155 kph). The National Hurricane Center says it made landfall about 10 p.m. ET Wednesday at Soto La Marina along the coast.

More than 500 miles from Alex's eye, the anger of the storm came crashing into the Louisiana coast earlier in the day. Seas were even wilder than Tuesday, crippling efforts to clean up the oil from the BP spill that is plaguing the Gulf Coast.

The storm is far from the Gulf oil spill, but cleanup vessels were sidelined by the hurricane's ripple effects earlier in the day. Six-foot waves churned up by the hurricane splattered beaches in Louisiana, Alabama and Florida with oil and tar balls.

In good weather, more than 6,000 boats are involved in oil spill operations, but today only the biggest ships could weather the storm. The largest boats at the spill site have continued capturing oil and drilling the relief wells that promise to plug the leak for good in August.

Watch 'World News' for more on the oil spill and Hurricane Alex tonight on ABC.

Hundreds of shrimp boats that were converted into oil skimmers now sit in port, and the tall waves tossed boom that was holding back the oil onto the beaches of Grand Isle, La. The beaches are now too dangerous even for cleanup crews.

"Those booms, they don't seem like they were designed for this kind of wave action," said Matthew Slavich, an oyster fisherman hired by BP for cleanup efforts. He was out on the open water trying to lay boom today, but didn't stay long.

Today, the mayor of Grand Isle, La. expressed the frustrations shared by many in the region.

"Everything in place and all of a sudden this storm," said mayor David Camardelle. "What is the Good Lord doing to me now?"

The stormy weather carried to the spill area by Hurricane Alex isn't expected to pass for at least another day or two, and it is still too rough and too soon to send crews out to determine how much oil has been driven into the marshes by the surf.

"We have skimming task forces standing by, ready to be deployed as soon as the weather abates," said Adm. Thad Allen, the commander of the government's spill response efforts. "And we will be out there hitting it hard."

Government Misses Containment Deadline

The Obama Administration today stepped back from its suggestion two weeks ago that the leak would be 90 percent contained by the end of June. On this last day of the month, the leak is about 40 percent contained.

Instead, Sec. of the Interior Ken Salazar told the House National Resources Committee today, BP and the government will increase containment capacity and be able to capture "most" of the leaking oil by mid-July, with a capacity of 60,000 to 80,000 barrels per day.

Currently, the government estimates that between 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil are leaking from the BP well every day, of which they are capturing some 28,000 barrels per day.

Once Alex passes and cleanup can continue, BP will also resume using the dispersant Corexit that had been criticized by some as an environmental hazard. Today, the Environmental Protection Agency said its initial round of testing shows that the chemical is safe enough to use and that it's not worth risking a switch at this point.

"We need more data before deciding whether to change dispersants," said Paul Anastas, the EPA assistant administrator for research and development.

Though the EPA's report reveals that Corexit is "slightly toxic" for small fish, it is more important that dispersants are "less toxic than oil," said Anastas.

Click here to return to the 'World News' page.

ABC's Brian Hartman and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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