PENSACOLA, Fla. — Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen late Thursday ordered BP to begin evacuating the Deepwater Horizon oil spill site after the National Hurricane Center predicted that sustained winds of more than 55 miles per hour would reach the area perhaps as early as Saturday.
"Due to the risk that Tropical Storm Bonnie poses to the safety of the nearly 2,000 people responding to the BP oil spill at the well site, many of the vessels and rigs will be preparing to move out of harm's way beginning tonight," Allen said. "This includes the rig drilling the relief well that will ultimately kill the well, as well as other vessels needed for containment. Some of the vessels may be able to remain on site, but we will err on the side of safety."
Allen said he had directed BP to leave the well sealed during the evacuation and said that monitoring of the well, which has not leaked oil into the Gulf of Mexico for more than a week, would continue until the last possible moment. He said BP has been told to move ships guiding remotely operated vehicles providing a video feed from the capped well last and to return them to the area first.
"While these actions may delay the effort to kill the well for several days, the safety of the individuals at the well site is our highest concern," he said.
Federal and state oil cleanup workers had begun the process of battening down across the Gulf of Mexico for a weekend tropical storm, pulling out booms and calling vessels back to port from anti-contamination efforts in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.