Video: Hurricane Alex wreaks havoc in Gulf

  1. Transcript of: Hurricane Alex wreaks havoc in Gulf

    WILLIAMS: Good evening.

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: On one hand, Alex is not a large hurricane as hurricanes go -- it's just a Category 1 -- but on the other hand you do not want to be where it's making landfall tonight. And what may be the most damaging aspect of this storm is just its sheer width, its size and its reach. The Louisiana bayou, as you can see, is nowhere near Hurricane Alex , and yet, with the gulf full of crude oil, the cleanup effort is already getting hurt by this storm. They are in for days of rough seas, high tides, high winds , all of it heading in a bad direction for them up into that marsh. So the effects of Alex will be far reaching, they'll be with us for days. We're going to try to begin our coverage here tonight with Weather Channel meteorologist Jim Cantore in South Padre Island , Texas . Jim , your signal is in and out because it's getting a little sporty there, I guess, a heavy band coming through right now.

    JIM CANTORE reporting: Yeah, Brian , we're just about to get hammered once again. We've gotten a little bit of a break from the rain. But at times I've actually been blown off this dune that I'm standing on, where you can see a very agitated Gulf of Mexico behind me. Satellite depiction to radar, you can clearly see the eye south and east of Brownsville . It's coming in within the next four hours, and with it winds could be high as 100 miles an hour. This will be one of the strongest June hurricanes on record. What a way to start the season. Rainfall, it's still going to come because of the sheer size of this thing, another three to five, possibly as much......inches for the lower Rio Grande Valley and even upriver. And all that has to go somewhere. And with the rain they've already had downriver, that is going to cause major flood problems tonight and during the day tomorrow. Plus we've still got the winds tonight. We've got sporadic power outages here on South Padre and into Brownsville , along with a few tornadoes. It appears we will still have gusts near hurricane force as we get into tonight. But by far and large, Brian , as you were mentioning, the biggest impacts will be on the oil spill. Today we've had gusts over 50 miles an hour, winds as high as 15 to 30 miles an hour and seas eight to 10 feet. That is expected to unfortunately continue tomorrow after the storm makes landfall.

    WILLIAMS: Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel . Jim , you take care as this makes landfall tonight.

msnbc.com news services
updated 6/30/2010 10:56:25 PM ET 2010-07-01T02:56:25

Seven-foot waves and 25 mph winds generated by Hurricane Alex, along with high tides, pushed more oil from the massive spill onto Gulf Coast beaches Wednesday.

In Louisiana, heavy rains pounded the Grand Isle region, causing flash flooding in low-lying areas. Long bolts of lightning streaked the dark skies, keeping oil-cleanup operations locked down. A pounding surf had moved some of the boom that lines the beach.

Coast Guard Cmdr. Joe Higgens said the booms protecting the region would probably take a beating because of heavy seas and storm surge, and workers will start putting the barriers back in place once the weather clears.

Earlier Wednesday, Alex pushed an oil patch toward Grand Isle and uninhabited Elmer's Island, dumping tar balls as big as apples on the beach.

"The sad thing is that it's been about three weeks since we had any big oil come in here," marine science technician Michael Malone said. "With this weather, we lost all the progress we made."

BP said suspended operations included skimming, controlled burns of oil on the ocean surface and flights spraying dispersant chemicals. The oil-capture and relief well drilling operations were ongoing.

Image: Tanker turned into a skimmer
Patrick Semansky  /  AP
A tanker converted to be used as an oil skimmer, right, is anchored on the Mississippi River in Boothville, Louisiana, on Wednesday.

Once the storm passes, a new weapon could be depoyed: a former oil tanker converted into an oil skimmer that stands 10 stories tall and is longer than three football fields.

Now anchored in the Mississippi River, the ship has never been tested, and many questions remain about how it would operate. Federal officials would have to sign off on using it before BP could give it a cleanup contract.

Although Alex will not make a direct hit on oil platforms in the Gulf, the storm was potent enough that several companies have evacuated rigs. About a quarter of oil production and 9.4 percent of natural gas output in the Gulf of Mexico have been shut, U.S. officials said.

The loss of skimmers, combined with gusts driving water into the coast, left beaches especially vulnerable.

In Alabama, the normally white sand was streaked with long lines of oil. One swath of beach 40 feet wide was stained brown and mottled with globs of oil matted together.

Oily water on roads
Coastal areas are also seeing unusually high tides.

Along the Mississippi coast, exasperated drivers were forced to take detours along some busy beach roads to avoid oily water splashing onshore.

Strong northern winds and high tides pushed tar balls and waves of dark brown mousse patties over several seawalls that line major beach roads.

"I have had enough. Now it is coming up on the roads. Next the oil will be in our homes. Just watch. This is (Hurricane) Katrina all over again, just worse," said Kelly Mills, an area resident.

On Louisiana's Bay Baptiste, whitecaps were visible in the distance as the outer bands of Alex began to move into the region. Several marshes were only partially boom-protected, with oil coating the bottom of reeds as crabs covered in crude scurried on nearby marsh islands.

A thin sheen of oil covered much of the bay's water.

"Because of the spill, any effect from the storm will be bad," said Michael Dardar, of Raceland, Louisiana. "High waves will drag oil over and under the boom."

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The nasty weather will likely linger in the Gulf through Thursday, National Weather Service meteorologist Brian LaMarre said.

Alex made landfall in Mexico near the Texas border with maximum sustained winds near 105 mph. The National Hurricane Center said the Category 2 storm was the first June Atlantic hurricane since 1995.

Officials scrambled to reposition boom to protect the coast, and had to remove barges that had been blocking oil from reaching sensitive wetlands. Those operations could soon get a boost. The U.S. accepted offers of help from 12 countries and international organizations.

Mexico, Norway, Holland and Japan are providing skimmers; Canada is providing containment boom; and Croatia is pitching in with technical advice. Only one offer has been rejected, according to the chart. Dispersant chemicals offered by France are not approved for use in the U.S.

The U.S. rarely faces a disaster of such magnitude that it requires international aid, though it did accept assistance after Hurricane Katrina.

Winds, waves could break up oil
Scientists have said the rough seas and winds, though, could actually help break apart the oil and make it evaporate faster.

The wave action, combined with dispersants sprayed by the Coast Guard, have helped break a 6-by-30-mile oil patch into smaller patches, Coast Guard Cmdr. Joe Higgens said.

"It's good news because there is less on the surface," Higgens said. "It's surface oil that washes up on the beaches."

Jefferson Parish Council member Chris Roberts said the oil was entering passes Tuesday at Barataria Bay, home to diverse wildlife. A day earlier, barges that had been placed in the bay to block the oil were removed because of rough seas. Boom was being displaced and had to be repositioned, he said.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement said 28 platforms and three rigs in the path of the storm in the western Gulf have been evacuated. Still in the water are vessels being used to capture or burn spewing oil and gas and those drilling relief wells that officials say are the best hope for stopping the leak for good.

So far, between 70 million gallons and 137 million gallons of oil have spewed into the Gulf from the broken BP well, according to government and BP estimates. The higher estimate is enough oil to fill half of New York's Empire State Building with oil.

In related developments Wednesday:

  • The first of several tests on chemicals used to break apart the oil shows all the available dispersants are generally equally toxic, the Environmental Protection Agency said. The testing also showed the chemicals are far less toxic than oil and that none of the chemicals have dangerous effects on the sea life tested. Further tests are underway to see whether the combination of dispersants and oil poses more risks than benefits.
  • An Interior Department official says the government is expected soon to issue more permits for drilling in shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The decision would not affect the six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling imposed in the aftermath of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill. While drilling in shallow waters was not part of the moratorium, there has been confusion about whether new permits will be approved for shallow water leases. Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes told a House hearing that he expects more shallow water drilling applications to be approved as they are received.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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Photos: Month 4

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  1. The Blue Dolphin, left, and the HOS Centerline, the ships supplying the mud for the static kill operation on the Helix Q4000, are seen delivering mud through hoses at the site of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana, on Aug. 3, 2010. In the background is the Development Driller III, which is drilling the primary relief well. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Eddie Forsythe and Don Rorabough dump a box of blue crabs onto a sorting table at B.K. Seafood in Yscloskey, La., on Aug. 3, 2010. The crabs were caught by fisherman Garet Mones. Commercial and recreational fishing has resumed, with some restrictions in areas that were closed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Chuck Cook / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Sea turtle hatchlings that emerged from eggs gathered on the northern Gulf Coast of Florida are released at Playalinda Beach on the Canaveral National Seashore near Titusville, Fla., on Aug. 2, 2010. The sea turtles were born at a Kennedy Space Center incubation site, where thousands of eggs collected from Florida and Alabama beaches along the Gulf of Mexico have been sent. (Craig Rubadoux / Florida Today via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A crab, covered with oil, walks along an oil absorbent boom near roso-cane reeds at the South Pass of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana on Aug. 1, 2010. BP is testing the well to see if it can withstand a "static kill" which would close the well permanently. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A boat motors through a sunset oil sheen off East Grand Terre Island, where the Gulf of Mexico meets Barataria Bay on the La. coast, on the evening of July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Oil approaches a line of barges and boom positioned to protect East Grand Terre Island, partially seen at top right, on July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is seen near an unprotected island in the Gulf of Mexico near Timbalier Bay, off the coast of Louisiana on Wednesday, July 28. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Greenpeace activists stand outside a BP gas station in London, England, on July 27 after they put up a fence to cut off access. Several dozen BP stations in London were temporarily shut down to protest the Gulf spill. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. James Wilson sells T-shirts to those arriving in Grand Isle, La., for the music festival Island Aid 2010 on July 24. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Activists covered in food coloring made to look like oil protest BP's Gulf oil spill in Mexico City on July 22. The sign at far left reads in Spanish "Petroleum kills animals." (Alexandre Meneghini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. People in Lafayette, La., wear "Keep Drilling" tee shirts at the "Rally for Economic Survival" opposing the federal ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, July 21. Supporters at the rally want President Obama to lift the moratorium immediately to protect Louisiana's jobs and economy. (Ann Heisenfelt / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A flock of white ibis lift off from marsh grass on Dry Bread Island in St. Bernard Parish, La., July 21. Crews found about 130 dead birds and 15 live birds affected by oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on July 19 in the eastern part of the parish behind the Chandeleur Islands. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the BP Oil Spill Victim Compensation Fund testifies during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on July 21 in Washington, D.C. The hearing was to examine the claim process for victims of the Gulf Coast oil spill. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An American white pelican has its wings checked during a physical examination at Brookfield Zoo’s Animal Hospital by Michael Adkesson and Michael O’Neill on July 21. The bird, along with four other pelicans, was rescued from the Gulf Coast oil spill and will be placed on permanent exhibit at the zoo. (Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Native people of the Gwich'in Nation form a human banner on the banks of the Porcupine River near Ft. Yukon, Alaska July 21, in regard to the BP oil spill with a message to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil development. The images include a Porcupine caribou antler and a threatened Yukon River Salmon. (Camila Roy / Spectral Q via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Gerald Herbert / AP
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