PC hopes to escape crude oil invasion

PANAMA CITY, FL - By Jim Wallace - bio | email

Panama City Beach, FL - (WALB) – Many Southerners own property or vacation homes in Panama City or in the Apalachicola area, so they are watching this oil disaster in the gulf spreading toward the east.

Fishing and tourism are huge parts of Panama City Beach's economy, and if the oil from that doomed rig in the Gulf spreads this far, people are afraid their livelihoods could be devastated for years.

At Captain Anderson's Marina, where many tourists charter boats to fish.  But not today.   The tourists were not here or at the beaches.

Fishing boat captains play quarters, because there are no charters. They are worry  that the spreading oil slick could put them out of business.

"If it gets on the beach, our livelihoods are gone," said First Mate Raymond Atkinson, of the Highliner.

The fishing business has not been good before this oil disaster in the gulf, and these lifelong boat captains fear that if oil comes this far east, it could have long last effects.

"You can look at Alaska, for instance.  The herring fishing there.  The oil spill happened in the eighties, and the herring fisheries are still closed.  They could shut us down anywhere from two months to 20 years or better," said Atkinson.

Panama City Beach officials and business owners held an emergency meeting today, to try to formulate some sort of plan if the oil comes ashore here.  They will use these boat captains to deploy booms and skimmers to hold back the oil.

"We've come through hurricanes, and tornadoes, and other events.  That kind of knocked us down for a while but we came back.  And so we're just ready to weather the storm," said Pam Anderson, Captain Anderson's Marina Operations Manager.

The beaches were nearly deserted Monday because of rough weather, the same storm that is hampering efforts to stop the fast-spreading oil slick.

Only diehard tourists like Willie Sue Miller of Tupelo Mississippi were braving the wind and high surf at Panama City.  But she wasn't worried about that, she was  concerned about the threat of oil hitting these beaches in coming days. "Scary, real scary," she called it.

People come from across the nation, like Donna Dunn of Eufaula Alabama, because of the beaches. "Sugar white sand," she said.

Taffy and Jeff Nelson of Portland, Oregon said they are concerned that those beautiful beaches could be spoiled for months by this gulf crisis.

"I would hate to see the animals and what not be hurt by the oil.  But I understand they were asking some people if they wanted to cancel their vacations, so that's going to effect the economy," Taffy Nelson said.

The Nelsons and Miller said they know many people cut their vacations short because of the oil threat, and most people are canceling coming in the future until they see what happens. Miller said she is going to make the most of her vacation until then. "I'll enjoy it while I can."

City officials met with BP officials today, and tried to formulate an emergency plan if the oil keeps approaching this way.

Motel owners are talking about redoing the sandy beaches every night to remove the oil stains, but no one knows if that will be effective.

BP officials were here in Panama City Beach, meeting with city officials and business leaders.  They say they are doing all they can, but right now they say a break in the weather and calmer seas is about the only hope that this environmental disaster does not reach Panama City Beach.

So as they ready boats to pull the skimmers, they are asking people to pray.

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