Napolitano: Spill could be unprecedented disaster - - The News for South Mississippi

Napolitano: Spill could be unprecedented disaster

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano worked to assure South Mississippians Thursday that the federal government's response to the BP oil spill is on track, but said disaster remains a real possibility.

Napolitano joined U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Governor Haley Barbour and other state and federal officials at a briefing Thursday morning at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi.

She said, "We are facing an evolving situation. The possibility remains that the BP oil spill can turn into an unprecedented environmental disaster. The possibility remains that it will be somewhat less."

Governor Barbour praised the federal efforts and urged Mississippians to remain calm.  Barbour said, "There is no certainty here that this is Armageddon; that something terrible is going to happen."

Oil has washed up in Louisiana at the Southwest Pass, no oil has washed up on Mississippi's shore or barrier islands.

"As the secretary said, we may be hit by sheen, which is negative impact, but not a great big impact, certainly not a catastrophe," Barbour said.

More than 10,000 personnel and 270 vessels are responding to the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico to protect the shoreline and wildlife. Work to contain the spill with booms and disbursements continues.

A giant concrete-and-steel box is in place, ready to be lowered onto a leaking well in hopes of stopping the flow of oil into the Gulf. 

"I hope it works. It hasn't been used at that depth before. But we are still proceeding as if it won't. If it does, that of course will be a major positive development," Napolitano said.

A Coast Guard official said good weather in the Gulf of Mexico is allowing crews to conduct more controlled oil burns and drop thousands of gallons of chemicals on the slick. More fires are scheduled for today.

Meanwhile, more than 180,000 feet of oil containment booms are in place along Mississippi's shoreline. In addition, President Barack Obama has authorized the call-up of 17,500 National Guardsmen in the Gulf region, including 6,000 members of the Mississippi National Guard who are on stand-by to respond.

Commerce Secretary Locke reaffirmed that BP will be responsible for the cleanup costs.

"BP is ultimately responsible for making the entire region whole again," Locke said.

The Obama administration is offering low-interest loans to businesses in parts of the Gulf Coast that have suffered financial losses from the massive oil spill.

"We've mobilized all of these resources because we understand that a lot of livelihoods are on the line," Locke said.

The Small Business Administration says the loans will be available immediately to businesses along the Louisiana coast, as well as in some counties in Mississippi.

Qualifying businesses include those engaged in fishing, suppliers of fishing gear and retailers who depend on revenue from fishing.

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