Oil hits Pensacola, Panama City prepares to protect St. Andrew Bay - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Oil hits Pensacola, PC preps to protect St. Andrew Bay

By Christian Jennings - bio | email

PANAMA CITY BEACH,  FL (WALB) – The Gulf Crisis continues Thursday morning. Oil is now in the Pensacola Pass and on it's shores in the largest amounts yet. And east of that, Florida beaches are scattered with more tar balls.

To prepare for the inevitable, Panama city is now building a massive blockade with steel pilings and heavy duty booms to keep out the oil they know will show up soon.

In Panama city we still aren't hearing any reports of oil. There are a few tar balls here and there but nothing like they are seeing in Florida counties to the west. But an aerial view of the gulf shows the slick is coming. That's why people in Panama city are taking quick actions to protect their bay before it's too late.

From the sky you can see long orange strings of oil fill the Gulf. Some of that oil is already on Pensacola's shore. That's why officials to the east in Panama City are on defense.

 "We're preparing for the long haul," said Bay County Emergency Services Chief Mark Bowen.

The Bay county commission approved a plan Tuesday evening to build a massive booming system for the St. Andrew Pass.

 "It is steel pilings that will be driven in and stand about 10 feet above the high tide and in between people will see very large booms," said Bowen.

The St. Andrew Pass is the only access to the gulf from the bay. When it's all complete it will serve as a huge gate to block out the oil.

 They aren't wasting any time on the construction. It's expected to be up and operating in just 23 days.

 But while people wait for sheets of oil to arrive, Florida Fish and Wildlife officials are staying busy with oil spottings. They check it out, document  the tar balls' location then call in BP crews to clean them up.

 "We have boats out trying to find it before it gets on the beaches. doing everything we can to keep the impact as low as possible," said Officer Larry Morris with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

In Pensacola there are already reports of beached dolphins because of the spill, a sight Floridians have been dreading since day 1.

 "The wildlife, the tourism, the beaches, is it going to destroy them?" asked Morris.

 Sadly, It's a question that may take years to answer. But from a birds eye view, the future isn't looking bright.

 A tropical wave has formed south of Haiti. Emergency officials say it could push the oil closer to shore and send it even farther down the Gulf coast.

Thousands of BP contractors are now working 12-hour overnight shifts along the coast to keep up with the clean up that needs more attention as each day passes.

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