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STORM MAY HAMPER EFFORTS TO PLUG WELL

Tropical Storm Alex, expected to intensify into a hurricane today, may not deliver a direct hit to the fleet of ships, aircraft and workers responding to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but the storm will delay plans to capture more of the crude gushing from the undersea well.

High seas and winds from Alex pushed back the scheduled start of the Helix Producer, a ship that is expected to nearly double BP's capacity to capture oil.

Though the storm was churning 650 miles southwest of the Deepwater Horizon wellhead Monday morning, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said Alex could by Wednesday produce 10- to 12-foot seas near the response effort.

The storm is expected to make landfall Thursday near the Mexico-Texas border.

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BP is working on another backup plan

Since shortly after oil began spewing into the gulf two months ago, relief wells have been discussed as the ultimate solution, plugging the runaway well deemed a foregone conclusion.

But BP and government officials are now talking about a long-term containment plan to pump the oil to an existing platform should the relief well effort fail. While such a failure is considered unlikely, the contingency plan is the latest sign that with this most vexing of engineering challenges - snuffing a gusher 5,000 feet down in the gulf - nothing is a sure thing.

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So far, oil giant has spent $2.65 billion

NEW ORLEANS - BP's mounting costs for capping and cleaning up the spill have reached $2.65 billion, it said Monday, but the oil giant denied reports out of Russia that chief executive Tony Hayward is resigning.

The costs include spill response, containment, relief well drilling, grants to gulf states, claims paid and federal costs, but not a $20 billion fund for damages the company created this month.

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Biden will visit Pensacola today

A cavalcade of national leaders, led by Vice President Joe Biden, is prepared to visit the spill region today.

Biden will be joined on his visit to New Orleans and Pensacola by Adm. Allen, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Jane Lubchenco, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.

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35K Number of unsolicited ideas for fixing the oil spill that the X Prize Foundation says it has received. The foundation wants to make fixing the BP spill a multimillion-dollar competition. It has done the same for space, fuel efficient cars and gene-mapping. Francis Beland told a special oil spill conference Monday that his group is seeking advice from the public on how to handle such a competition. The foundation also has to raise money for a prize. X Prizes are usually $10 million or more.

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"I was dumbfounded by the amount of wasted effort, wasted money and stupidity that I saw."

Rep. Gene Taylor,D-Miss., whose district lies on the coast of Mississippi, said after he flew over the spill Saturday. As the shores of Biloxi, Miss., took their turn being slimed by oil Monday, Mississippi officials, including Gov. Haley Barbour, slammed the federal government and BP for failing to capture the crude offshore.

The Miami Herald, New York Times and Associated Press contributed to this report.

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