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Oil sludge washes in Florida, dolphin stranded

PENSACOLA BEACH, Fla., June 23 (Reuters) - Florida saw its worst impact yet from the BP BP.LBP.N oil spill as thick oily sludge washed ashore on Pensacola Beach on Wednesday and emergency workers found an oil-covered dolphin stranded on the shore.

State emergency workers said the pudding-like mixture covered 3 miles (5 km) of Pensacola Beach, a barrier island that is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

“It’s just a line of black all the way down the beach as far as you can see in both directions. It’s ruined,” said Steve Anderson, a Pensacola fisherman.

Small tar balls have washed ashore intermittently on beaches in the tourism-dependent western Florida Panhandle in the last couple of weeks, but large slicks of oil and tarry mats floated in on Wednesday.

Governor Charlie Crist toured the area, prodding the oily goo with a stick in the Casino Beach section of Pensacola Beach.

“We’ve seen tar balls but never this kind of stuff,” the Pensacola News-Journal quoted the governor as saying.

The oil-covered dolphin was found in the area affected by the sludge, near Fort Pickens. With the help of the Coast Guard, emergency workers kept it wet until a wildlife decontamination crew arrived.

The sludge-covered part of Pensacola Beach was closed, although a handful of sunbathers were there, keeping well back from the water line. Hundreds of workers were trying to scoop up the mess with small shovels and a pungent smell permeated the air.

“I jumped in my car this morning, drove out here and immediately the smell hits you in the face. It’s like you’re pulling up to a gas station to get gas,” said Pensacola resident Gary Deshazo.

“There are sheetrock-size balls of oil in the surf out there and they’re still coming in.”

Charles Fitzsimmons, a federal on-scene representative working with the Coast Guard, said it would take days to clean up the gooey sludge on Pensacola Beach even if no more arrived.

“It’s a little bit more than normal, there’s no doubt,” Fitzsimmons said. “It’s a continuous process, it’s non-ending for a while.” (Additional reporting by Tom Brown in Miami, writing by Jane Sutton, Editing by Sandra Maler)