[Updated at 5:53 p.m.] Authorities battled the Gulf of Mexico's massive oil spill with sweat, steel and fire Wednesday as patches of oil crept to within two miles of the Louisiana bayous.
Two specially equipped "burn rigs" set fire to patches of crude oil near the ruptured undersea well at the heart of the spill, a BP executive said Wednesday afternoon.
At the same time, a four-story containment vessel was loaded aboard a barge in Port Fourchon, Louisiana, en route to the well, the first step in an attempt to capture the leaking oil at an unprecedented depth.
And thousands of volunteers, wildlife officials, idled fishermen and National Guard troops mobilized to string floating booms along the beaches and across the mouths of estuaries leading toward the Gulf.
The outer sheen of oil was reported to be "very close" to the Chandeleur Islands and the Mississippi River delta in southeastern Louisiana, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry told reporters. And an oyster fisherman spotted a large patch of oil sheen near the border between St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, about 40 miles southeast of New Orleans, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said.
Landry said the heavier concentrations of crude remained further offshore, and the latest predictions from the federal government said the weather would keep it largely stationary for the next three days.
The 72-hour forecast shows winds shifting to the south and blowing about 10 to 15 knots (12-17 mph), which is likely to produce only "a little bit of movement on the fringes," said Charlie Henry of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.
"Nothing's changing real fast this week," Henry said.
[Updated at 1:06 p.m.] Authorities battling the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico plan to try to burn off another patch of the growing slick Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. Coast Guard announced.
The move comes a week after the last attempt to use a controlled fire to destroy some of the oil pouring from a damaged underwater well. That attempt destroyed about 100 barrels of oil, but well owner BP said at the time that it planned larger burns when weather permitted.
The well is gushing an estimated 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) per day. Efforts to cut off the well have failed, and BP planned to ship a massive steel box out to the site on Wednesday that it hoped could be used to contain most of the leak.
[Updated at 10:00 a.m.] Federal and state officials in Florida said Wednesday they are stepping up preparations for fallout from the massive oil spill now threatening to spread throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
The U.S. Coast Guard is in the process of setting up an incident command post in St. Petersburg, Coast Guard Captain Tim Close told reporters. Coast Guard officials are being joined in their preparations by, among others, representatives of BP - the company responsible for the spill - and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
They are following a regional contingency plan that has "been in place for years," Close said. The strategy identifies the most environmentally sensitive areas of Florida's Gulf coast and the most effective oil spill cleanup strategies.
"As of right now, there is no prediction of any landfall impact (of) oil on the west coast of Florida within the next 72 hours, and that's as far out as the projections actually go," Close said.Close noted that the "best scientific information right now is that, if there is impact, it is not going to be in the form of one giant oil slick. It's going to be in the form of residual from the spill - tar balls (and) what's referred to as 'patties,' kind of a darker, thicker ... stickier mess. But not one great sheen."
The spill could ultimately land "anywhere on the west coast of Florida or it could be nowhere on the west coast of Florida," he said.
[Updated at 9:15 a.m.] Workers with BP plan to start moving a four-story metal container Wednesday toward a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that could get even worse.
The company has a risky plan to lower the container 5,000 feet into the water off the coast of Louisiana and position it above a ruptured oil pipe. If successful, the container would sit there like an upside-down funnel, sucking up oil that would otherwise add to the growing slick in the Gulf.
BP plans to start moving the container toward the coast around noon Wednesday, said Doug Suttles, the company's chief operating officer. It will
take a couple of hours to get to the coast and then a few more days to actually get the container in place, he said.
[Posted at 8:39 a.m.] Crews working to stem the tide of oil in the Gulf of Mexico capped one of the three leaking points Wednesday, a BP executive said.
John Curry, the director of external affairs for BP, said the leak that was capped was the smallest of the three leaks. Curry says the pipe was cut off and sealed with a slip valve.