NEW ORLEANS -- Relatives flew over Gulf of Mexico waters yesterday where 11 oil-rig workers died a year ago, residents gathered in quiet prayer vigils onshore and President Barack Obama vowed to hold BP and others accountable for "the painful losses that they've caused."
Somber remembrances marked the first anniversary of the rig explosion that caused the worst offshore oil spill in American history. But all is not bleak. Beaches, restaurants and hotels are filling up again, and experts say the resilient Gulf is on the mend.
The disaster began on the night of April 20, 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon rig burst into flames and killed the 11 men. The rest of the crew evacuated but, two days later, the rig toppled into the Gulf and sank to the seafloor. Over the next 85 days, 206 million gallons of oil -- 19 times more than the Exxon Valdez spilled -- spewed from the well.
Parents, siblings and wives of the workers -- whose bodies were never recovered -- boarded a helicopter yesterday to see the waters where their loved ones perished. The only indication they were at the site was an announcement from the pilot, said Arleen Weise, whose son, Adam, was killed on the rig.
"It was just a little emotional, seeing where they were," Weise said by phone from Houston, where rig owner Transocean planned a memorial service.
Asked what went through her mind when she saw where the rig went down, Weise said, "Just rise up. I wanted them to come up, but it didn't happen."
In a statement, Obama paid tribute to those killed in the blast and said that despite significant progress toward mitigating the spill's impact, "the job isn't done."
"We continue to hold BP and other responsible parties fully accountable for the damage they've done and the painful losses that they've caused," he said.
A presidential commission has concluded that a cascade of technical and managerial failures -- including a faulty cement job -- caused the disaster. BP, the oil giant which owns the blown-out well, has paid billions in cleanup costs and to compensate victims.
The company has estimated its total liability at $40.9 billion, but it might have to pay many billions more, especially if its officials were to be found criminally negligent in still-pending investigations and trials. For now, though, the company has rebounded relatively well, with its stock now just 20 percent below its pre-spill value.