Nightly News   |  May 02, 2010

Sizing up the fight to clean the Gulf

With the wind working against cleanup crews, NBC’s Lester Holt takes to the Gulf of Mexico to see what they’re up against and find out how close the oil is to land.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> john harwood , thank you. and as we noted at the top of the broadcast and you can probably see behind me, a day of violent weather here capping off an afternoon in which there were ten-foot waves out in the gulf, 30-mile-per-hour winds. all this, all but stalling containment operations out at sea today. we headed out on the water to find out what those crews are up against and to find out how close the oil now is to land. making our way into the mighty mississippi , we passed huge skimmer ships designed to clean up the oil. instead, sitting at anchor, waiting out the weather. the wind working against cleanup crews even as it drives the oil slick toward land. where and when it comes ashore keeps charter boat operators like james peters on edge.

>> it's very emotional for us. could be, you know, the biggest tragedy for this area, you know, i mean, oil could just demo our coastline.

>> reporter: we're getting a small taste of what it's like out at the site itself, where sea swells are at least ten feet. we're still on the mississippi river and getting hammered in rough seas and a lot of the vessels that would be involved in the clean up simply can't operate in these kind of conditions. the coast guard says none of its ships ventured out to the spill area today and over flights were canceled as well because of the weather. today on our way downriver to inspect the gulf shore, we ultimately found patches of smoother sailing and came upon some of the 375,000 feet of containment booms that are still yet to be deployed. more than 200,000 feet are already out. finally, we found a place to come ashore. we've traveled about as far as we can safely go in a small boat because of the state of the seas out there. we're at the mississippi river mouth, where it meets the gulf of mexico on the west side of the river here. fortunately, we've seen no signs of oil. many of louisiana 's barrier stretches like this were wiped away by hurricane katrina . the tall cane in many places is the only thing keeping the beach from washing away. now the thought of oil damaging what's left unnerves people like james peters , who not only make a living here, but also call the gulf coast home.

>> this is basically the only line of defense we have, you know, before erosion gets to us. this cane here, for example, is what holds the soil together. so this is it.

>> those strong winds are expected to subside by tomorrow evening, at least in this area, and many of the ships are in staging positions, ready to resume work as soon as there is a break in the weather .

>>> there's more ahead on "nightly