Page last updated at 23:26 GMT, Friday, 30 April 2010 00:26 UK

US Air Force to spray oil-dispersing chemicals on slick

Inmates could help oil clean-up

US Air Force planes are preparing to spray oil-dispersing chemicals off the coast of Louisiana as the operation to tackle a huge slick is stepped up.

Fears of an ecological disaster along the southern US coast have mounted as oil from the sunken rig in the Gulf of Mexico began to wash ashore.

Animal rescue groups along the coast started to receive their first patients - seabirds coated in thick, black oil.

Worsening weather conditions are threatening to hamper the operation.

The US National Weather Service said strong winds could push the oil into inlets, ponds and lakes in south-east Louisiana over the weekend.

Mystery blast

Heavy seas are pushing the slick over the booms meant to contain it.

Nasa satellite picture

The US Navy has brought more booms and other equipment to the area.

Fishermen - who face losing their livelihood from the spill - have been drafted in to help.

Wetlands off the Louisiana coast sustain hundreds of wildlife species and a major seafood and fishing industry.

Up to 5,000 barrels of oil a day are gushing into the sea after the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank last week.

It remains unclear what caused the blast, which left 11 workers missing, presumed dead.

Alabama has joined Louisiana and Florida in declaring a state of emergency.

The Louisiana National Guard is on standby to help with security, medical needs and engineering.

Some 1,900 emergency workers and more than 300 ships and aircraft are being sent to the scene, President Barack Obama announced on Friday.

Two C-130 Hercules cargo planes equipped with aerial spraying systems are preparing for flights at Lake Charles, Louisiana.

BP blamed

The military planes will join civilian aircraft that have been dumping tens of thousands of gallons of oil-dispersing chemicals.

Meanwhile, the US government is piling more pressure on BP to stop the spill.

BP is ultimately responsible
President Barack Obama

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano flew to Louisiana with other officials and urge the British oil and gas giant to use "additional assets to help lead the response in this effort".

"We will continue to push BP to engage in the strongest possible response," she said.

In a statement from the White House on Friday, President Obama said BP was "ultimately responsible... for paying the costs of response and clean-up operations".

BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles defended the firm's actions, saying it had mounted "the largest response effort ever done in the world".

The oil giant is sending teams underwater with remotely operated vehicles to try to shut off an underwater valve, but so far they have been unsuccessful.

They are also having a relief-well drilled to decrease the pressure and slowing the leak, though experts say that could take up to three months.

The US government said on Friday it was putting on hold all new offshore drilling until the cause of the spill is investigated.

Last month President Obama eased a moratorium on new offshore drilling.

The US government has designated the oil spill an "incident of national significance", allowing it to draw on resources from across the country.

How the oil has spread
Approximate oil locations 22 April - 15 May

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