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HOUSTON - Tropical storm Alex slowed oil spill cleanup and containment work in the Gulf of Mexico and drove more petroleum into fragile Gulf wetlands and beaches yesterday, with any permanent fix to BP Plc's ruptured deep-sea well still several weeks away.

More than 10 weeks into the crisis, oil continued spewing into the Gulf, cleanup success remained limited and a proposal by the Obama administration to halt all deep-water drilling for the next six months remained in limbo.

BP's massive oil spill is now the largest ever in the Gulf of Mexico, based on the highest of the federal government's estimates, an ominous record that underscores the oil giant's dire need to halt the gusher. The oil that's spewed for 2 1/2 months from a blown-out well a mile under the sea hit the 140.6 million gallon mark, eclipsing the record-setting, 140-million-gallon Ixtoc I spill off Mexico's coast from 1979 to 1980. Even by the lower end of the government's estimates, at least 71.7 million gallons have spilled.

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