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Gulf oil spill heads into a dispiriting summer

BOOTHVILLE, La. - There is still a hole in the Earth, crude oil is still spewing from it and there is still, excruciatingly, no end in sight. After trying and trying again, one of the world's largest corporations, backed and pushed by the world's most powerful government, can't stop the runaway gusher.

As desperation grows and ecological misery spreads, the operative word on the ground now is, incredibly, August, the earliest that a real resolution could be at hand.

And even then, there's no guarantee of success. For the United States and the people of its beleaguered Gulf Coast, a dispiriting summer of oil and anger lies dead ahead.

Oh . . . and the Atlantic hurricane season begins Tuesday.

The latest attempt, using a remote robotic arm to stuff golf balls and assorted debris into the gash in the sea floor, didn't work. Sunday, as churches echoed with prayers for a solution, BP Plc said it would focus on containment rather than plugging the undersea puncture wound, effectively redirecting the mess it made rather than stopping it.

"We failed to wrestle this beast to the ground," said BP Managing Director Bob Dudley on the Sunday talk shows.

Trouble is, the longer it lasts, the more beasts emerge ready to wrestle. Crude-coated birds are becoming a frequent sight along coastal areas. At the sea's bottom, no one knows what the oil will do to species like the newly discovered bottom-dwelling pancake batfish.

Perhaps most alarming, 40 days and 40 nights after the Deepwater Horizon blew up and began the underwater deluge, hurricane season is at hand. It brings the horrifying possibility of wind-whipped, oil-soaked waves and water spinning ashore and coating areas much farther inland.

On its own, the spill is already the worst in American history. It has released perhaps 18 million to 40 million gallons of oil into the Gulf, according to government estimates that are, like all numbers involved in this brouhaha, subject to vigorous debate.

The trepidation is less disputed.

"This is probably the biggest environmental disaster we've ever faced in this country," Carol Browner, the White House energy and climate change adviser, said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"There are people who are getting desperate, and there are more getting anxious as we get further into the shrimping season and there is less chance they will recover," said the Rev. Theodore Turner, 57, at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Boothville, near where oil first washed ashore.

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