Nightly News   |  June 04, 2010

Reports of oil strike fear in heart of Florida

The first substantial clumps of oil began to appear on the blinding white sand of Florida's Gulf shores on Friday, spreading anxiety especially among those dependent on the state's tourism industry. NBC's Mark Potter reports.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: New Orleans ' talk radio station WWL are starting to say

publicly on the air what you hear from some privately in Louisiana: Maybe if those pristine white beaches in Florida get fouled by oil, maybe then somebody will find a way to turn off the oil. Well, that started happening today. The first substantial clumps of oil appeared on that blindingly white sand. NBC 's Mark Potter is in Pensacola tonight. Mark , good evening.

MARK POTTER reporting: And good evening to you, Brian . Tar balls have been spotted here since early this morning. The oil sheen itself is still about nine miles offshore, but those tar balls now are a big concern. On a rising tide just after dawn, residents and tourists found what they'd hoped they never see here on the pristine white sand of Pensacola Beach . Scattered along the water's edge were clumps of gooey, brown tar balls which Suzanna Pigott and her son Colton felt they had to clean up.

Ms. SUZANNA PIGOTT: Sure would like to see the community come out here and start helping clean up the beach before it...

COLTON: Gets any worse.

Ms. PIGOTT: ...worse. Gets to the point where it destroys everything.

POTTER: Shortly after he was notified, Buck Lee , the man in charge of Pensacola Beach , went out for an inspection tour after calling BP to ask where were the cleanup crews he'd been promised.

Mr. BUCK LEE (Santa Rosa Island Authority Director): I said, `I understand you have hundreds of people standing around in Pensacola . Where the hell are they?' He said, `We're going to send a survey out -- a survey crew out.' I said, `I don't need' -- I said, I don't need a survey crew. I need somebody to pick up this crap.

POTTER: By afternoon, cleanup crews had arrived to pick up tar, while sunbathers still enjoyed the beach and the water. Because of the high waves along this eight-and-a-half mile long beach, officials say they can't put out booms to stop the oil. Instead, officials say, skimmer boats are working as far as 50 miles offshore to try to stop the oil from reaching land.

Senator BILL NELSON (Democrat, Florida): It's an overall war, but it's not one major battle. It's a bunch of tactical firefights that we're going to have to be fighting for months and months to come.

POTTER: Now, meanwhile, the beaches here remain open, and officials say there are no plans yet to close them. But there was a cruel twist today when a man we met named Doug Klowes lost his job on the tourist trolley here because of all those tourist cancellations. Brian :

WILLIAMS: Wow, the sick feeling of the arriving oil in Florida . Mark Potter , thank you for