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Severe Weather Halts Offshore Gulf Cleanup Efforts

Bad weather forced Gulf of Mexico oil cleanup efforts off the shore of Louisiana to stop Tuesday, but BP's oil-capture systems maintained operations, the U.S. Coast Guard and BP said.

Satellite imagery tracking Hurricane Alex.
Source: noaa.gov
Satellite imagery tracking Hurricane Alex.

Ripple effects from Tropical Storm Alexproduced six-foot waves and wind gusts of up to 20 miles per hour and were expected to last a couple of days, said Phil Grigsby of the National Weather Service in New Orleans.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Kelly Parker in Houma, Louisiana, said controlled burns of oil on the ocean, flights spraying dispersant chemicals and booming operations were halted.

U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the U.S. government's point man on the spill response, said last week that that BP's oil-capture and drilling efforts would be affected by gale-force winds, defined at 40 knots, or about 46 miles per hour .

BP spokesman Robert Wine said BP's oil-capture and relief well drilling operations were continuing.

"That's all big equipment, and it isn't as affected by the sea state," Wine said of three rigs and a drillship a mile above the gushing leak.

Alex, forecast to strengthen into the first hurricane of the Atlantic season later Tuesday, was churning northwest across the southwestern Gulf and was expected to come ashore near the Texas-Mexico border late Wednesday or early Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said.

BP's oil-capture operations are south of Louisiana and not in the storm's projected path. Grigsby said the weather would also affect cleanup operations on beaches and marshes.

Earlier, BP said the oil-capture systems collected or burned off 23,395 barrels of oil Monday. The current systems can capture up to 28,000 barrels a day.

One channels oil from a containment cap atop failed blowout preventer equipment through a fixed pipe to a ship, while the other siphons oil through a hose to a rig.

An undetermined amount of oil continues to billow out from under the cap and through vents on top into the sea. A team of U.S. scientists estimate that the leak is gushing up to 60,000 barrels a day overall.

The two systems' highest daily oil-capture rate was 27,100 on June 22, according to BP.

Landfall on Wednesday Night: Forecasters

Forecasters expect Alex to grow to hurricane strength later in the day and hit land on Wednesday night, bringing 6 to 12 inches of rain to northeastern Mexico and southern Texas as well as dangerous storm surges along the coast.

A Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) oil rig near the shores of the state of Campeche, Mexico.
Eunice Adorno | AFP | Getty Images
A Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) oil rig near the shores of the state of Campeche, Mexico.

Officials in South Texas readied rescue vehicles, shelters in San Antonio and Laredo and rushed supplies to the Rio Grande Valley.

Bob Pinkerton, mayor of South Padre Island, a coastal community where the entire economy rests on tourism, urged residents and visitors to evacuate.

Texas Governor Rick Perry Monday issued a disaster proclamation for 19 counties, and ordered rescue boats, helicopters and other assets moved to the state's southernmost communities.

A hurricane warning was in effect for the coast of Texas south of Baffin Bay to the mouth of the Rio Grande, and along the coast of Mexico from the Rio Grande to La Cruz.

Some Mexican Ports Closed

Dos Bocas and Cayo Arcas, which handle 80 percent of Mexico's oil export shipping in the Gulf, have been closed since Sunday due to strong surf in the area.

State-run oil giant Pemex said its platforms in the Campeche Sound were working normally Monday although it suspended helicopter flights to and from the facilities. Pemex was due to release an update later Tuesday.

Pemex said it was monitoring wind and surf conditions. Its Isla del Carmen port, not essential for oil shipments, has been closed since Sunday night.

Barbara Blakely, a spokeswoman for Shell, told Reuters Monday the company was closely monitoring Alex's advance in the Gulf but that its LNG plant in Altamira, Mexico was working as usual.

At least 10 people have been killed in Central America since the weekend in accidents related to Alex, local authorities reported.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov 30 and meteorologists predict this year will be a very active one. Hurricanes feed on warm water and the sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic are higher than usual this year.

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