Image: Barack Obama, Thad Allen, Charlotte Randolph
Evan Vucci  /  AP
President Barack Obama, LaFourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph, center, and U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen look at booms laid out to collect oil in Port Fourchon, La.
updated 5/28/2010 7:23:26 PM ET 2010-05-28T23:23:26

Kneeling to pick up tar balls on an oil-fouled beach and listening to “heartbreaking stories” of loss, President Barack Obama personally confronted the spreading damage wrought by the crude gushing into the Gulf of Mexico — and the bitter anger that’s rising onshore.

“What can he really do?” said Billy Ward, a developer who comes to his beach house here every weekend and, like many other locals, had little positive to say about Obama’s trip to the beleaguered region on Friday. “If he wants to do something, let him get out there and pump some mud and cement into that hole. Just fix it. Help us.”

BP PLC, even less popular here, kept up its efforts to “just fix it,” using its “top kill” procedure to try to stop the deep oil well leak by pumping in heavy mud. If it doesn’t work, something BP says will be known within a couple of days, Obama’s own problems will only compound.

He said he understands people “want it made right” and that their frustration won’t fade until the oil is stopped and cleaned up.

“It’s an assault on our shores, on our people, on the regional economy and on communities like this one,” the president said from this small barrier island town threatened by what is now established as the largest oil spill in American history. “People are watching their livelihoods wash up on the beach.”

A BP drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and beginning to send millions of gallons of oil spewing into the water. That oil is now beginning to foul beaches, kill wildlife and cripple the tourism and fishing industries on which this area depends. With the crude still flowing freely, criticism has been increasingly aimed at Obama and his administration.

Amid concern that the environmental and economic disaster could also engulf his presidency, Obama has stepped up his public appearances this week to demonstrate that he is engaged. He held a rare White House news conference on Thursday, focusing almost entirely on the spill. And Friday, he flew to the coast for an inspection tour and meetings that lasted about four hours — his second visit in the 39 days of the crisis.

He noted that all may not go well in such a massive, unprecedented undertaking. Mistakes are possible, Obama said. But a lack of urgency about plugging the leak and restoring the region is not, the president declared.

'You are not alone'
“There are not going to be silver bullets or a lot of perfect answers for some of the challenges that we face,” he said in front of an incongruously pristine backdrop of sparkling blue water with dolphins, fish and seabirds frequently spotted. “But we’re going to keep at this every day.”

Video: BP: 'We'll continue with this operation' Obama made an unqualified promise to coast residents reminiscent of previous presidents speaking after disasters — such as George W. Bush after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“I’m here to tell you that you are not alone, you will not be abandoned, you will not be left behind,” Obama said. “The media may get tired of the story, but we will not. We will be on your side and we will see this through.”

With more than 20,000 people already working to contain and clean up the oil, the president announced he was tripling the manpower in places where the sticky mess has come ashore or is about to.

As for specific advice for beleaguered local residents and the concerned U.S. public, he pointed them to the White House website, www.whitehouse.gov, for guidance.

Obama directed those in the region who are filing claims for damages to count on the government — state and federal — to help cut any red tape. He was joined by the governors of Louisiana, Florida and Alabama.

To the public at large, he pleaded for volunteers to join the cleanup and for tourists to flock to the majority of the region’s coastline that is untouched.

His first stop of the day was Fourchon Beach, where absorbent boom and sandbags have been laid for miles to try to keep more oil from darkening the beach. A shirt-sleeved Obama walked to the water’s edge, kneeling in the sand as Adm. Thad Allen of the Coast Guard explained what he was seeing.

Obama called over reporters traveling with him and picked up a few of the pebble-sized tar balls. “Obviously the concern is that, until we actually stop the flow, we’ve got problems,” the president said.

'Best minds working on it'
He then was off to nearby Grand Isle for his statement and a formal briefing from Allen, who is overseeing the spill response for the federal government. One woman along his route held up a sign saying, “Clean Up the Gulf.”

Video: Mayor: ‘We need our commander in chief’ Asked as he was walking off if he was confident in the latest fix attempt, the president demurred. “All I can say is we’ve got the best minds working on it, and we’re going to keep on at it.”

“I like the man, but I personally feel he’s only here to please everybody,” said local resident Virginia Smith.

Ward was in the midst of building a gated fishing community here when the oil rig exploded. “We don’t know if it’s going to be six months or six years before we get back to normal, if ever,” he said.

Early in the morning in advance of the president’s arrival, hundreds of workers clad in white jumpsuits and rubber gloves hit the beaches to dig oily debris from the sand and haul it off. Workers refused to say who hired them, telling a reporter they were told to keep quiet or lose their jobs.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Obama on Gulf Coast: 'We'll see this through'

  1. Transcript of: Obama on Gulf Coast: 'We'll see this through'

    WILLIAMS: Good evening.

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: The oil spill in the gulf goes on. Days ago now, it became the largest of its kind in US history . And more crude oil comes out with every minute that goes by. This so-called top kill procedure, more of an attempt at it continues. We still have no firm word on any success. Today the president visited the region again. He saw some tiny bits of evidence of the spill on a beach that we're told was clean just prior to his arrival. He had a long meeting with local officials. In a moment we'll hear from a man who was there for it. He said if anyone involved in running this cleanup operation gets frustrated that they're not being heard, quote, "Talk to me." The president urged them to call him directly. Today President Obama visited Grand Isle , Louisiana , and our chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd covered the visit and starts us off from there tonight. Chuck , good evening.

    CHUCK TODD reporting: Well, good evening, Brian . On the heels of that press conference yesterday, which was sort of an opening salvo of this public relations offensive -- some might say defensive -- the president delayed the start of his mini vacation to make his second trip to the gulf since the Deepwater Horizon exploded 39 days ago. The president saw and felt firsthand today the sticky oil that has washed ashore here in Grand Isle , Louisiana .

    President BARACK OBAMA: These little balls, these are the tar balls that they're talking about.

    TODD: These nickel- and quarter-sized oil tar balls the president held in his own hand are all over this barrier island . It comes in as fast as BP 's cleanup crews can pick it up.

    Pres. OBAMA: So either the boom soaks stuff up or manually you can pick up these tar balls as they come into ashore.

    TODD: But it wasn't just what he felt and saw, it was what he heard. A planned 30-minute meeting with local leaders turned into a two-hour gripe fest. When he finally emerged, the president again insisted that he is the one calling the shots.

    Pres. OBAMA: As I said yesterday, and as I repeated in the meeting that we just left, I ultimately take responsibility for solving this crisis. I'm the president, and the buck stops with me.

    TODD: For some in Grand Isle watching the president today at the Starfish Restaurant , Mr. Obama 's words were appreciated, but they're still not enough.

    Ms. SUSAN CALDER (Grand Isle, Louisiana, Resident): I hope it's not just lip service.

    Ms. RONNIE HERBERT (Grand Isle, Louisiana, Resident): But don't be blindsided by just what they're telling you in Washington . Come down here and live with us.

    TODD: And for so many in this community this oil spill is threatening their livelihood. Shrimp and oyster boats sit idle in this marina. Wilbert Collins is a fourth generation oyster man.

    Mr. WILBERT COLLINS: After Katrina , we got shut down for a month, but for this we never -- nobody ever seen it, and we don't know what to expect. Nobody knows what to expect in the fishing industry.

    TODD: While the president didn't interact much with local residents on this trip, he did acknowledge their frustration and pleaded for patience.

    Pres. OBAMA: And we face a long-term recovery and restoration effort. America has never experienced an event like this before. And that means that, as we respond to it, not every judgment we make is going to be right the first time out.

    TODD: Despite words of comfort, the president didn't avoid the bleak reality.

    Pres. OBAMA: Even if the leak was stopped today, it wouldn't change the fact that these waters still contain oil from what is now the largest spill in American history .

    TODD: And the president admitted some more bad new for these communities on these barrier islands. Basically they've run out of the boom that is supposed to protect the oil, or at least soak up some of this oil as it comes in. And the president said they're going to try to speed up the manufacturing process. Ironically, Brian , earlier today Admiral Thad Allen , who's running things down here for the government, had said they had plenty of boom, they just needed to figure out how to get it there, but apparently that is not the case. Brian :

    WILLIAMS: All right, Chuck Todd starting us off in Grand Isle , Louisiana , tonight. Chuck , thanks.

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