July 23, 2010 in Nation/World

Ships ordered out of spill site

Tropical Storm Bonnie heading into Gulf
Harry R. Weber Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Waves partially obscure rigs drilling relief wells at the oil spill site in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday.
(Full-size photo)

Obamas plan

Gulf vacation

 WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is taking his own advice and taking his family to the Gulf Coast on vacation next month, something he and first lady Michelle Obama have been urging others to do to help the area’s suffering economy.

 The White House said the Obamas will visit an undisclosed section of Florida’s coast the weekend of Aug. 14.

 Obama has made four trips to the Gulf region since an underwater well exploded in April and began spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico. First lady Michelle Obama was scheduled to make her second visit to the area today.

 The White House did not say where in Florida the Obamas would be spending their time. But wherever the family ends up, it will just be three Obamas – the president, the first lady and 9-year-old Sasha. Malia, 12, will be away at camp for the first time.

Associated Press

ON THE GULF OF MEXICO – Key ships stationed over BP’s crippled well in the Gulf of Mexico were ordered to evacuate Thursday ahead of Tropical Storm Bonnie, and engineers have grown so confident in the leaky cap fixed to the wellhead that they will leave it closed while they are gone.

Tropical Storm Bonnie, which blossomed over the Bahamas and was to enter the Gulf of Mexico by the weekend, could delay by another 12 days the push to plug the broken well for good using mud and cement, retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen and BP officials conceded. Even if it’s not a direct hit, the rough weather will push back efforts to kill the well by at least a week.

“While this is not a hurricane, it’s a storm that will have probably some significant impacts. We’re taking appropriate cautions,” Allen said in Mobile, Ala.

Allen issued the order Thursday night to begin moving dozens of vessels from the spill site, including the rig that’s drilling the relief tunnel engineers will use to permanently throttle the free-flowing crude near the bottom of the well. Some vessels could stay on site, he said.

“While these actions may delay the effort to kill the well for several days, the safety of the individuals at the well site is our highest concern,” he said in a statement.

A week of steady measurements through cameras and other devices convinced Allen they don’t need to open vents to relieve pressure on the cap, which engineers had worried might contribute to leaks underground and an even bigger blowout. The cap was attached a week ago, and only minor leaks have been detected.

Allen said earlier in the day that evacuating the vessels could leave the well head unmonitored for up to a few days. He said he ordered BP to make sure that the ships carrying the robotic submarines watching the well are the last to leave and the first to return.

Bonnie caused flooding in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti before reaching tropical storm strength later Thursday, and Allen said crews expected sustained wind above 39 mph at the spill site by early Saturday.

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