Rough seas generated by Hurricane Alex have pushed more oil from the massive spill on to US Gulf coast beaches as clean-up vessels are sidelined by the storm. The hurricane is churning coastal waters across the oil-affected region on the Gulf of Mexico, with waves as high as 6ft and winds more than 25mph forecast just offshore from the Mississippi Delta in Louisiana to north-western Florida. In Louisiana, the storm pushed an oil patch towards Grand Isle and uninhabited Elmer's Island, dumping tar balls as big as apples on the beach. "The sad thing is that it's been about three weeks since we had any big oil come in here," marine science technician Michael Malone said. "With this weather, we lost all the progress we made."
The loss of oil-skimmer ships, combined with gusts driving water into the coast, left beaches especially vulnerable. In Alabama, the normally white sand was streaked with long lines of oil, while one area of beach 40ft wide was stained brown and mottled with globs of oil matted together. Dozens of vessels that were being used to combat the oil spill were tied to docks as Alex, more than 500 miles away, approached the Texas-Mexico coast, and they are expected to remain out of action for several days. The weather is forecast to linger in the Gulf throughout Thursday, National Weather Service meteorologist Brian LaMarre said.
Alex is projected to head for the Texas-Mexico border region and stay far from the spill zone off the Louisiana coast. It is not expected to affect work at the site of the blown-out well, but the storm's outer edges complicated the clean-up. Skimming efforts off the coasts of Louisiana, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi have mostly stopped. However, Scientists said the rough seas and winds could actually help break apart the oil and make it evaporate faster.