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Oil from spill continues its assault on California beaches

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. - Rising tides and moderate swells deposited more crude oil spilled by the tanker American Trader on some of Southern California's best-known surfing and sunbathing beaches Tuesday. Legions of new cleanup crews swarmed across the beaches, tripling the number of workers desperately trying to swab up layers of fresh oil from the region's worst tanker accident in 20 years, which has blackened miles of shoreline.

Scores of birds, some injured, some dead, washed up with the black tide. By midafternoon, 124 dead birds had washed ashore; another 307 were oil-soaked but alive.

By dusk, reinforcements had pushed the number of paid cleanup workers to more than 1,100, but for many, the monotony - and futility - of sopping up the oil by hand was akin to emptying the ocean a spoonful at time.

Compounding matters, the nomadic slick that has teased and baffled cleanup officials since Feb. 7, when 394,000 gallons of Alaskan crude spewed from the gouged tanker off Huntington Beach, shifted directions yet again Tuesday, sliding south just offshore.

To the relief and amazement of wildlife officials and volunteers, Tuesday's onslaught continued to skirt a pair of delicate wetlands.

"I suspect the wetlands may be less threatened" than they were Monday, said California Fish and Game Capt. Bill Powell.