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Tropical storm turns into hurricane, delays oil spill cleanup

Reuters

Tropical storm Alex has turned into the first hurricane of the season in the Gulf of Mexico, disrupting clean-up operations of the BP oil spill of the coast of the state of Louisiana, and prompting President Barack Obama to declare a state of emergency in Texas, where the storm is expected to hit land Wednesday.

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Rough seas have already moved parts of the slick closer to areas in Florida and Louisiana that could further threaten their fragile coastal wetlands.

Strong winds and large waves stopped the deployment of a third vessel that would double BP’s containment system for the gushing oil. The current system captures about 25,000 of the 30,000 to 60,000 barrels of crude gushing daily out of the well that exploded on 22 April.

Winds had reached 120 kilometres per hour Tuesday and the storm is expected to strengthen and make landfall late Wednesday near the order between Texas-Mexico border. This is hundreds of miles from the spill site, but the coastguard said even the threat of gale-force winds would be enough to force cleanup ships to withdraw.

A withdrawal could shut down operations for two weeks, according to Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, delaying until September the completion of relief wells designed to plug the leaking well.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal complained about the pace of cleanup efforts and slow federal response to Vice President Joe Biden, who was visiting the area Tuesday.

"The federal government needs to increase their sense of urgency," Jindal said in a statement after meeting with Biden. "They need to treat this spill like a war and get in it to win it. We're here to defend our way of life."

The State Department announced that the US would accept offers to help clean up the spill from 12 foreign countries, including France, which will supply skimmers, along with Japan, Mexico and Norway.

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