NEW ORLEANS - New Orleans, which managed to escape the oil from the BP spill for more than two months, can't hide any longer.
For the first time since the accident, oil from the ruptured well is seeping into Lake Pontchartrain, threatening another environmental disaster for the huge body of water that was rescued from pollution in 1990s to become, once more, a bountiful fishing ground and a popular spot for boating and swimming.
"Our universe is getting very small," Pete Gerica, president of the Lake Pontchartrain Fishermen's Association, said yesterday.
Over the July Fourth weekend, tar balls and an oil sheen pushed by strong winds from faraway Hurricane Alex slipped past lines of barges that were supposed to block the passes connecting the Gulf of Mexico to the lake.
State authorities closed the lake's eastern reaches to fishing on Monday, though most of it remained open. Barges were lined up at bayous and passes to stop the oil from coming in, and cleanup crews used nets Tuesday to collect tar balls from marinas and docks. They also planned to lay out 9,000 feet of special permeable booms. But the lake was too choppy for skimmer vessels to operate.
About 1,700 pounds of oily waste has been collected, said Suzanne Parsons Stymiest, a spokeswoman for St. Tammany Parish.
The amount of oil infiltrating 600-square-mile Lake Pontchartrain appears small so far. And tests on seafood have not turned up any oil contamination, said Brian Lezina, a state biologist.
But the pollution is distressing to the many people in Louisiana who have a deep attachment to the lake.
"You won't hear songs about a lot of the marshes in south Louisiana, but you will hear songs about Lake Pontchartrain," Lezina said.
Out in the Gulf, meanwhile, stormy weather kept skimmers from working offshore yesterday for yet another day and delayed the hookup of a big new ship intended to suck more crude from the gushing well. Also, the arrival of a Navy blimp intended to hover above the relief effort was delayed until Friday.
Tar balls from the spill also washed up on Texas beaches over the holiday weekend, meaning the disaster now touches all five Gulf Coast states, spanning more than 500 miles of coastline.