Hurricane Alex Hinders Gulf Cleanup Crews

Oil-stained barriers sit on a Louisiana beach, with the surf breaking behind them i i

It had been more than two weeks since any oil had washed up on this beach in Port Fourchon, La. Crews had finished their work when the storm started moving their way. Jeff Brady/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jeff Brady/NPR
Oil-stained barriers sit on a Louisiana beach, with the surf breaking behind them

It had been more than two weeks since any oil had washed up on this beach in Port Fourchon, La. Crews had finished their work when the storm started moving their way.

Jeff Brady/NPR

Bad weather is causing problems for crews trying to clean up after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Choppy waters forced the Coast Guard to dock skimmers and other boats. That means more oil is reaching shores that were already mostly cleaned.

Oil stains the rocks along a beach in Port Fourchon, La. i i

Oil stains the rocks along a beach in Port Fourchon, La. Jeff Brady/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jeff Brady/NPR
Oil stains the rocks along a beach in Port Fourchon, La.

Oil stains the rocks along a beach in Port Fourchon, La.

Jeff Brady/NPR

On the beach near Port Fourchon, La., on Tuesday, crews filled plastic bags with sand and rocks covered in reddish-brown oil. Workers only have to look out at the menacing waves to know why the crude is washing up now.

"The waves are 10 to 15 feet high when they break," said U.S. Coast Guard Ensign Cameron Cooper.

Cooper said normally the water is calm and waves are only a foot or so high, but the storm has changed everything. It had been more than two weeks since any oil had washed up on this beach. Crews were just finishing their work when the storm started moving their way.

"Unfortunately the timing of it wasn't ideal, because the oil was right at our doorstep when all these waves came," Cooper said. "Those two factors together make it a mess right now."

Nearby, Jerome Benjamin of New Orleans was slipping into a yellow hazardous material suit. He's among the temporary workers who were hired to clean up beaches. He said as quick as they clean up the oil, more comes. But he didn't consider that frustrating.

Jerome Benjamin of New Orleans slips into a yellow hazardous material suit. i i

Jerome Benjamin of New Orleans slips into a hazardous material suit. He's among the temporary workers hired to clean up the beaches. Jeff Brady/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jeff Brady/NPR
Jerome Benjamin of New Orleans slips into a yellow hazardous material suit.

Jerome Benjamin of New Orleans slips into a hazardous material suit. He's among the temporary workers hired to clean up the beaches.

Jeff Brady/NPR

"The more oil that comes in, the longer we stay out here — more work," said Benjamin, who was looking for work when BP contractors started hiring laborers.

Ensign Cooper predicted that it would take another week just to clean up all the damage caused in the past couple of days.

"Eventually we'll win and we'll have our beach back," Cooper added.

But there's no guarantee the beach will stay clean. There are still millions of gallons of oil out there floating around, and no one yet knows where it all will end up.

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