BILOXI, Mississippi (Reuters) - Oil from a BP Plc spill in the Gulf of Mexico washed ashore at one of the largest tourist beaches in Mississippi on Monday, forcing tourists to pack their bags and evacuate the shore.
Sludgy brown oil, light sheen and tar balls arrived at a series of small towns in the Gulf state on Sunday, the first time oil has hit Mississippi’s mainland. On Monday, it reached Biloxi, a major resort city famous for its casinos.
One day after state and local officials complained vehemently about nonexistent cleanup efforts, busloads of workers in white plastic hazmat suits showed up to scoop up the greasy tide and tar balls.
But in Biloxi, residents and fishermen confronted BP officials with sarcastic questions, angry that after months of planning the response had not been faster.
“BP’s efforts are not perfect. We will try harder next time,” said Terry Hikson, a BP official supervising the clean-up.
Some children on vacation in Biloxi stepped into tar balls before their parents whisked them away from the beach.
“We are leaving today. My child stepped in oil yesterday as we were playing on the beach. Obviously we are cutting our vacation short. This is a complete shame and very sad,” said Susan Reed, who came with her family from Texas on vacation to Biloxi.
Reed said she was unsure whether to take her 7-year-old daughter to the doctor and was worried because her foot remained stained even after they had washed off the oil.
In total 700 boats were at work on the containment effort and the state was pressing for more resources, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said in a statement.
But residents disputed that figure and only around a dozen clean-up boats were visible.
Rain and thunderstorms churned up the oil on beaches overnight, scattering it and making cleanup more difficult.
But local officials said that despite the urgency of the task they were struggling to mount a bigger effort because of problems in the chain of command.
“This is the most frustrating process I have experienced. We have asked and asked for an easier process. It’s unfortunate that we have to call all day long to get somebody out here the following day,” said Jackson County official John McKay.
The state has closed additional areas to commercial and recreational fishing and it warned people to stay out of the water off all major tourist beaches.
Writing by Matthew Bigg; Editing by Cynthia Osterman