Florida’s Pensacola Beach First in State to Suffer Oil Effects

June 4, 2010

Oil sheen and tar balls have washed ashore on a northwest Florida beach crowded with holidaymakers and swimmers in what appeared to be the first impact on the state from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, authorities and witnesses said Friday.

The oil debris came ashore on Pensacola Beach, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore which advertises “the world’s whitest beaches.”

Florida, the so-called Sunshine State with a $60 billion-a-year tourism industry, has been bracing this week for the forecasted arrival of the spilled oil, which has already hit the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to the west.

Beachgoers on Pensacola Beach, many of them children, were picking up tar blobs, some the size of ping pong balls, some smaller, scattered along the strand, a Reuters TV producer reported. No cleanup crews were in sight, she said.

Santa Rosa Island Authority Executive Director Buck Lee said he couldn’t be sure the oil came from the spill leaking from BP’s undersea Gulf of Mexico well “but I’m 90 percent certain that it is”.

The oil would be analyzed to confirm the link with the more than six-week-old spill, the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

A National Park Service spokeswoman in Gulf Breeze also confirmed that oil sheen and tar balls had washed ashore on the string of northwest Florida barrier islands.

But the beaches were still open, the spokeswoman said.

(Additional reporting by Jane Sutton, Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Frances Kerry)

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