Mississippi coast faces environmental crisis

* Some oil washes into the state’s inland marshes

* Clean up workers slow to arrive, local officials say

* Coast Guard defends response to Mississippi oil

By Leigh Coleman

WAVELAND, Miss., July 8 (BestGrowthStock) – Coastal Mississippi is
facing its biggest environmental crisis since Hurricane Katrina
as oil from a leaking BP (BP.L: ) (BP.N: ) well in the Gulf of
Mexico fouls its beaches and creeps onto inshore wetlands.

People watched in horror on Thursday as high tides washed
oil onto beaches in the southeast of the state and in some
cases the chunks of hardened oil floating offshore were as big
as a school bus, said Long Beach Mayor Billy Skellie.

The previous day, oily water breached a sea wall and
cascaded onto a coast road, leaving sticky patches.

It also flowed into a stretch of marsh, coating around one
mile ( 1.6 km) of marsh grass where it has the potential to do
long-term harm to a delicate ecosystem. In one spot, fishermen
pulled crab traps from the marsh bed only to discover that all
the crabs were dead.

Authorities also said the carcasses of 35 oiled seabirds
were plucked from beaches and coastal areas of Mississippi on
Wednesday, a higher-than-average daily total since oil first
struck the state’s 44-mile (70 km) coastline on June 27.

Officials are confident of their ability to remove oil from
beaches but cleaning it off wetlands is a much tougher
proposition.

“It is now flowing freely into our inland marshes and that
is exactly what we did not want to happen,” said Mississippi
Emergency Management Agency Director Brian Adam.

Katrina is best known for flooding New Orleans in Louisiana
but it also ravaged neighboring Mississippi’s coast with high
winds and a storm surge that ripped through towns like
Waveland, Pass Christian, Long Beach and Bay St Louis.

The disasters are not on a comparable scale since Katrina
destroyed thousands of Mississippi homes but they share a
common feature: on both occasions residents and officials said
the government response was too slow.

This time, residents complain that BP and federal
authorities have been tardy about deploying cleanup workers. As
the oil washed ashore on Wednesday, there were only around 20
workers in Waveland.

COMPLAINTS DISMISSED

More than 100 were at work on Thursday, however, and BP
said more were on the way.

“Frankly, we have been asking for more protection since the
oil began spewing into the Gulf and we are so frustrated
because it seems that BP wants the oil to come on shore,” said
Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo.

“We had an aggressive plan to stop this oil at the Barrier
Islands … but it is coming on shore anyway. Nobody knows what
to do because we need resources. This fight takes technology,”
he said.

Coast Guard spokesman Commander Charles Diorio dismissed
those complaints and said cleaning Mississippi’s beaches was a
top priority.

He acknowledged that high winds from Hurricane Alex, which
passed through the Gulf last week, had prevented the deployment
of vessels capable of skimming oil off the sea surface before
it reaches the beach.

“We are working very hard in Mississippi and have been for
the past several days, particularly along shore,” Diorio said
on a conference call from the Coast Guard’s command center in
Mobile, Alabama.

Groups of vessels were visible in the water on Thursday.

Louisiana’s wetlands have been hardest hit by the leak that
began April 20 with an explosion and fire on a BP rig that
killed 11 workers. But stretches of coast in Alabama, Florida
and, most recently, Texas are also affected.
(Additional reporting by Tom Brown in Miami; Writing by
Matthew Bigg, editing by Doina Chiacu)

Mississippi coast faces environmental crisis