An oil spill the size of Jamaica in the Gulf of Mexico is threatening to ruin fragile ecosystems and billion-dollar tourism industries in Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, Mississippi, and Florida.
The massive oil slick began washing ashore on the Louisiana coast on Friday and traces of oil have also shown up along the Mississippi Delta.
The oil slick is expected hit Florida by Monday.
Faced with a disaster that could exceed the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, Florida Governor Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency on Friday. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency on Thursday.
During the accident, the rig’s failsafe mechanism, known as a blowout preventer, failed to shut off the well. The well also allegedly lacked a remote-control shutoff device.
With no current way to shut off the flow, more than 200,000 gallons of crude oil are leaking out of the well per day, and officials said it could take up to 90 days to cap it.
Though the destroyed rig has dumped only 1.5 million gallons of crude in the Gulf so far, if crude continues to leak out at current rates the total devastation could be double the amount spilled from the Exxon Valdez.
Learn more about local wetlands and how you can help them recover: Wading the Louisiana Wetlands With Common Ground Relief
In Alabama, despite its relatively short shoreline, tourists spent $2.3 billion annually visiting the state’s beaches, according to the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau. Beach tourism also provides the livelihoods of about 41,000 workers.
Mississippi tourism to the Gulf, meanwhile, brings in $1.3 billion in revenue and employs around 27,500 workers, according to GulfCoast.org.
Learn more with our Ask the Locals City Guide: Mobile, Alabama.
But state facing the greatest tourism threat is Florida. Tourism is one of Florida’s top industries, bringing in $65.2 billion a year in revenue and employing just over a million people statewide.
Floridians already know the cost of oil spills. In August of 1993, more than 300,000 gallons of heavy oil and jet fuel spilled into the mouth of Tampa Bay.
The spill undermined tourism to beaches around south Pinellas County for at least four years.
Lawsuits filed by hotel operators to recover damages went on for eight years.
By Adriana Padilla for PeterGreenberg.com.
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