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Crist Says More Oil Help Needed

TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Charlie Crist and state emergency officials said Monday winds and sea currents should move the Gulf oil spill away from Florida in the next few days.

But with tar balls washing up as far east as the Panama City area, they said the state needs about five times as many oil skimmers as there are now deployed along the Panhandle. And Crist said he encourages individual efforts by any counties making their own independent responses to the Deepwater Horizon crisis.

"We're in constant communication with these counties," Crist said during a briefing at the state Emergency Operations Center. "Floridians want to do everything they can do to protect Florida. I encourage everybody to lean forward."

Crist introduced U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Joe Boudrow, who has been assigned to Florida as coordinator of federal, state and local preparations and clean-up. Boudrow said he will report to the military command in Mobile, Ala., on the state's needs for services and materials.

"The Coast Guard is committed to the state of Florida," said Boudrow. "We'll do our best to insure that an efficient, unified effort is conducted. We'll get the beaches cleaned up as quickly as possible when the oil arrives onshore."

Overall, Crist said, there are 480,000 feet of boom deployed and 170,000 ready in staging areas in Florida. He said five airplanes and five helicopters constantly monitor the situation, along with 42 boats.

The state EOC and emergency centers in several counties are also constantly feeding information to Tallahassee and Mobile, he said.

"It gives us the chance to know exactly where the sheen is, where the tar balls might be, where the clean-up needs to be taking place," said Crist.

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole said 25 all-terrain vehicles are patrolling beaches and reporting to the Coast Guard any sightings of oil or tar balls. He said weather conditions look good for Florida right now.

"We expect some favorable weather over the next several days. We now have some winds from the east, which will help push the plume to the west," said Sole. "Also, we've got some currents now that are going to improve and also push it to the west."

David Halstead, director of the Division of Emergency Management, said the state is also getting ready for hurricanes. He said there "well over 100" Florida National Guard members on duty, plus about 100 Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers and an equal number of DEP staffers, out in the field or in the EOC.

"We've got a tropical wave out there that has a small chance of formation as it moves westward," said Halstead. "We have a plan here in the state EOC to run both operations simultaneously, if necessary. As we handle Deepwater Horizon, we can't lose focus of the fact that we're at Day 21 of the hurricane season."

Crist said 20 skimmers are now working Florida waters. He said he told Halstead and Sole's department to go online and find more, anywhere in country, that might be available. He said they found some, which were quickly "picked up" by BP, but Sole said the state also brought in some skimmers.

"We've leased five skimmers to be placed in the five bays, to make sure we have assets in our control in case there are insufficient assets at the unified command level (in Mobile)," said Sole. "I do know that BP and the Coast Guard have ordered some additional 20 offshore skimmers, 64 near-shore skimmers and 50 basically flat-water or bay skimmers, to be deployed in the area."

But that means the entire four-state area of the Gulf affected by the disaster. Depending on where, and how much, oil Florida gets, Sole said the state needs five times as many as it has - or more.

"Candidly, I think 100 skimmers in Florida is what we need to keep this offshore. Right now, we only have 20 in the near-shore battle, but more skimmers, clearly, can be used to keep this off Florida's coast," he said. "I'd love to see another 100 come into Florida."

Crist said he sees no conflict between the state advertising for tourism, proclaiming that the beaches are open and clean, while also combating oil sheen and tar balls already on the coast.

"Most of the beaches are pristine, are un-impacted by this event," Crist said. "The reality is, when tar balls come up on the beach ... they can be cleaned up fairly quickly."

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