Obama Puts Boots On The Ground In Gulf States

President Barack Obama visited Louisiana Friday for a first-hand look at the oil-soaked Gulf of Mexico waters. He toured the command center and met with Gulf state governors and a number of local officials.

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BP's engineers are still trying to plug the well that's been spewing oil and gas from the Gulf of Mexico for more than five weeks. But they won't know for another day or so if their efforts are working. The ongoing work involves pumping heavy mud and debris a mile under sea to try to stop the leak at its source. Doug Suttles is BP's chief operating officer.

Mr. DOUG SUTTLES (COO, BP): This job is a very critical operation. If it takes longer, we'll let it take longer. We're not going to rush it, because it's too important. And as long as we believe it will work, we'll stay with it.

SIMON: BP executive Doug Suttles speaking late yesterday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, President Obama made his second visit to the oil-stained region. And he's promising residents of the Gulf Coast that they won't be abandoned during what's likely to be a prolonged cleanup. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Ever since oil began spewing from a ruptured deepwater well, the White House has made it clear: BP is responsible for this disaster. But be that as it may, President Obama knows he too is on the hook for the government's response. He acknowledged as much yesterday after meeting with Gulf Coast governors and other officials in Grand Isle, Louisiana.

President BARACK OBAMA: I'm the president and the buck stops with me. So I give the people of this community and the entire Gulf my word that we're going to hold ourselves accountable to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to stop this catastrophe, defend our natural resources, to repair the damage, and to keep this region on its feet.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama insisted his administration was on top of the spill from the first day the drilling rig sank, mobilizing thousands of workers in an effort to contain the damage. But with oil still seeping into coastal marshes, the president conceded yesterday more has to be done. He ordered the workforce tripled along the most sensitive parts of the Gulf Coast, where oil has already washed ashore or threatens to do so shortly.

President OBAMA: That means deploying more boom, cleaning more beaches, performing more monitoring of wildlife and impact to this ecosystem. We're also going to continue to do whatever it takes to help Americans whose livelihoods have been upended by this spill.

HORSLEY: Earlier, the president visited Fourchon Beach, accompanied by parish president Charlotte Randolph. Booms had been strung up to protect the beach, but small tar balls still washed up on shore. President Obama plucked a handful off the white sand, as a pair of dolphins cavorted not far away.

President OBAMA: Obviously theres precious wildlife in this area even though you see a whole bunch of oil rigs in the background.�The parish president said she used to come out here and do a lot of fishing, so we want to make sure that she comes back and can fish again.

HORSLEY: Fishing and tourism are major engines of the Gulf Coast economy and both are suffering from the spill. Mr. Obama stressed most of the region's beaches are still open for business and free of oil. But vacation spots were largely deserted in Grand Isle, a retreat that Rocky Landry's been visiting for decades.

Mr. ROCKY LANDRY: There's not a single boat here in the marina. All the waters are closed, whether it's to the north or the south of here. And the people that would come here for Memorial weekend or come here all summer with their kids and go in this beach water and crab and shrimp and try to catch a fish, that's the person that I don't see right now here. And it's really sad, because some people would just take their whole vacation here.

HORSLEY: Landry suspects the federal government initially underestimated the spill, but now the reality is sinking in. Even when the leak is finally brought under control, President Obama said, the Gulf Coast will face a long period of recovery and restoration. He promised the federal government will listen to suggestions from state and local officials. But he also warned no one has ever tried to run a cleanup this big before.

President OBAMA: In other words, there are going to be a lot of judgment calls involved here.�There are not going to be silver bullets or a lot of perfect answers for some of the challenges that we face. Understandably, the feelings of frustration and anger, the sense that any response is inadequate is - we expect that frustration and anger to continue until we actually solve this problem.�

HORSLEY: The president said this is a man-made catastrophe that's still evolving. His administration's response is evolving too. And he hopes the frustration that Gulf Coast residents feel will also evolve as the region slowly recovers.

Scott Horsley, NPR News.

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