PENSACOLA BEACH — Winds continued to blow two patchy, orange oil plumes from the Deepwater Horizon spill toward the white sands of the western Florida Panhandle on Sunday as skimmers worked to collect the crude before it came ashore.
At the same time, the state of Florida moved to temporarily close the area to the harvesting of saltwater fish, crabs and shrimp. The ban, the first by the state, covers state waters along 23 miles of coastline in Escambia County, extending 9 miles into the gulf.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said one of the oil slicks from the BP well is as close as 3 miles south of Pensacola Pass, an inlet next to a stretch of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and the tourist hotels of Pensacola Beach.
A larger slick was 9 miles south of the pass Sunday. The DEP said it is at least 2 miles wide and extends 40 miles south. Winds are continuing to blow the oil toward the shore, increasing the chances of tar balls and weathered crude washing up on beaches during the next week, the DEP said.
"There's a fear in the pit of the stomach and it won't go away and it's invading the life, the soul, of everybody in Pensacola," said Donna Self of Anniston, Ala., who was visiting Pensacola Beach with friends Sunday. "You can just feel the tension just building every day, getting stronger and stronger. And I don't even live here, and I feel it because I love the beach so much."
At Pensacola Pass, a boom was deployed to close the inlet at times when the tide is coming in, leading to frustration among some boaters who have cut or just run over the lines, officials said.
BP spokeswoman Lucia Bustamante said Sunday that the company has restructured its command to improve communication with local and state officials. Separate deputy incident commanders are now assigned to Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, instead of one person being responsible for all three states. The Florida incident commander, Ian Livett, was in Pensacola meeting with local officials Sunday.
Nearly 600 people contracted by the company are working along Florida shores, she said.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Pensacola on Tuesday during a tour of areas affected by the spill.
Escambia County Commission Chairman Grover Robinson IV said officials will try to relay their sense of urgency to the president and ask for more boats and equipment to fight the oil. "We need action," he said. "We don't need words. We don't need a speech."