Gale force winds days away from the Gulf of Mexico spill site could force at-sea workers to abandon their oil collection efforts for two weeks, the head of the national response effort said Friday.
That timetable would conservatively unleash another half-million barrels of oil back in the sea —- twice the Exxon Valdez spill. Using upper-end federal estimates of the leak, 840,000 barrels would gush out. That's 35 million gallons.
Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen described the cut-and-run plan in a conference call to reporters Friday morning in which he said, "Realistically, out of an abundance of caution,'' the Deepwater Horizon well would remain uncapped for 14 days.
Allen also announced that Vice President Joe Biden would visit the Florida Panhandle on Tuesday.
Hurricane contingencies have become major concerns for planners trying to clean up the runaway Deepwater Horizonspill in its 67th day.
There's a tropical wave in the west-central Caribbean kicking up thunderstorms from the eastern coasts of Honduras and Nicaragua to Mexico's northeastern Yucatan Peninsula.
The weather service said Friday there is an 80 percent chance the system would become a tropical cyclone over the weekend -- a storm system that could produce powerful winds.
The Air Force planned to send out hurricane hunter aircraft later Friday to explore the as-yet unformed weather system, which could yet shape up to become the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season.
In Washington, Allen told reporters that planning for a hurricane would require an evacuation of the wrecked oil rig's site once 40-knot winds are predicted to arrive within five days.
That means unplugging the makeshift system called a ``top hat'' that has been collecting a portion of the gushing crude.
Were there a coming hurricane, coastal clean-up efforts would also be abandoned in the Gulf, said Allen, who until recently was the commandant of the Coast Guard. "I don't think anyone wants a vessel out there trying to skim oil,'' he said.