Obama Makes Appeal To Americans To Visit Gulf

President Barack Obama traveled to the Gulf Coast on Friday to see firsthand the efforts to contain the oil spill. NPR's Don Gonyea speaks with Michele Norris about the president's tour.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And Im Michele Norris.

President Obama went to Louisiana today to get a firsthand look at the impact of the nation's worst oil spill. Mr. Obama first stopped at a beach near Grand Isle, where he picked up a tar ball and lamented the work and wildlife now at risk.

President BARACK OBAMA: These are the tar balls that they're talking about. So, Madam President, these you can actually send out teams to pick up as they wash up on shore.

NORRIS: President Obama there. Next, the president went to the nearby Coast Guard station, where he spent over an hour getting a briefing from incident commander Thad Allen and politicians from around the gulf. Mr. Obama said he would gladly do whatever it takes to end this disaster today, but he went on to say this.

President OBAMA: This is a man-made catastrophe that's still evolving. And we face a long-term recovery and restoration effort. America has never experienced an event like this before. And that means that as we respond to it, not every judgment we make is going to be right the first time out.

NORRIS: NPR's Don Gonyea is in Louisiana, and he joins us now.

Don, give us the details about what the president said about the containment and cleanup effort.

DON GONYEA: First off, the president said that there are some encouraging signs, though it's too early to say yet. But he said regardless, his administration is doing everything it can, that ideas are being brought into the mix. And while there is no magic bullet - he did use that phrase - he wanted to reassure people that his administration is doing all it can to stop the leak.

Then in terms of the containment, he said even if the leak were stopped today, right now, that is going to be a long-term, very expensive, very costly effort, and that the administration is doing all it can - first, to prepare for the cleanup, but also to mitigate the damage, the amount of damage that actually happens.

NORRIS: While the president was there, he made a direct appeal to the American people. Let's take a quick listen.

President OBAMA: One of the most powerful ways that you can help the gulf right now is to visit the communities and the beaches off the coast. Except for three beaches here in Louisiana, all of the gulf's beaches at this moment are open. They are safe, and they are clean.

NORRIS: Don, that sounds like an invitation. What impact is the spill having on people's lives and the economy that youve been able to see? Are people heading down there?

GONYEA: Well, I happen to be at one of the beaches - one of the three beaches that is closed. And this town, Grand Isle, this island that would normally just be bustling on the start of this holiday weekend is - well, it's not exactly a ghost town, but the beach is empty except for TV satellite trucks and the like, and the people who are involved in monitoring the spill. And you can see that it is already having a huge impact here.

Also, you walk along the beach - again, you dont see huge, obvious signs of the spill. But the president talked about those tar balls that he saw. Well, they're all over the beach, and I had never seen one before. But they're about the size of a raisin. You can hold, you know, you can scoop up a handful of them, and they crumble in your hand. They're kind of a combination of oil and sand.

Also, as the waves come in, you can see the leading edge of the wave has a little, brown, translucent residue that leaves kind of bathtub ring on the beach as it goes out.

But at the same time, you look out on the horizon, there are fish jumping. I saw dolphins. It's just there are no people, no boats, no recreational boats.

NORRIS: In the president's comments today and in that press conference yesterday, President Obama acknowledged that the response has not been perfect. He has been criticized - criticized quite a lot, actually, for being too slow to respond to this. What do you make now of how he's handling both the criticism and his current response?

GONYEA: Well, even his critics say it is good that he came here, that that will have an impact on him, even if he has been doing everything possible so far. But he also was sending a message that as this goes forward, this is not an easy situation. And there are going to be debates, and things are going to be questioned, and things are going to be criticized.

His basic message was that people need to keep an eye on the big picture and that he is doing all he can, and the administration is bringing tremendous resources to bear on this.

NORRIS: Thank you, Don.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

NORRIS: That was NPR's Don Gonyea.

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