Oil from a giant slick washed ashore in Louisiana on Friday, threatening a catastrophe for the United States Gulf Coast as the government called a national diasaster and mulled sending in the military.
With up to 200,000 gallons of oil a day spewing into the Gulf of Mexico from a leaking well, the accident stemming from a sunken offshore rig threatens to rival the Exxon Valdez disaster as the worst oil spill in US history.
Strong southeast winds blew the first oily strands of the 1,550 km circumference slick directly onto the coastal wetlands of South Pass near the mouth of the Mississippi river late Thursday, Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish where oil washed ashore, told AFP.
Hundreds of kilometres of coastline in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida were under imminent threat.
And with British Petroleum, which leases the wrecked rig, no closer to capping the ruptured well, the White House went into emergency response mode to try and avoid the kind of disaster that Hurricane Katrina brought to the US Gulf Coast in 2005.
“While BP is ultimately responsible for funding the cost of response and clean-up operations, my administration will continue to use every single available resource at our disposal, including potentially the Department of Defence, to address the incident,” President Barack Obama said.
The event was deemed a disaster of “national significance,” to better coordinate resources, as Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal meanwhile declared a state of emergency and called for urgent help to prevent vital spawning grounds and fishing communities from pollution on a massive scale.