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President Travels to Gulf Coast Hurt by BP Oil Leak


President Obama and his family are vacationing on the Gulf coast to show support for businesses hurt by the BP oil leak since April. Many residents hope the visit sends a positive message that the beaches are open to tourists.

Whether or not President Obama jumps in the Gulf of Mexico, the coast is clear. Surfers enjoyed the waves off Panama City Beach this weekend, and families jumped in the water to take a break from the heat.

There are no signs of oil here, even though visitors like Brian Jacks were not sure what they would find when they arrived.

"You are expecting to see oil all over the place [but] it's actually pretty nice," said Jacks.

Jacks came from nearby Alabama to scuba dive at St. Andrews State Park. He is pleased to see clean waters. But he was surprised at the relatively low number of tourists.

"Normally when we come down here it's just packed. You can't get into stores or restaurants. And now it is pretty free-flowing," he added. "You can tell the economy has slowed down a good bit."

Businesses across the Gulf coast say they are suffering because of the oil leak that started from the explosion on April 20. BP oil crews capped the leak last month, but tourist numbers are still down for many hotels, restaurants and other stores.

The trip by President Obama, his wife and younger daughter is intended as a show of support for the struggling region. White House officials hope it shows the rest of the country that the Gulf is safe and open for business.

At Treasure Island marina, Bobby Robinette says his charter boat company and others could use some help to bring in more tourists.

"We don't have a problem with oil, we have a problem with people thinking there is a problem," noted Robinette. "So if we get some good publicity, maybe it will offset some of the bad publicity."

President Obama has made four other trips to the Gulf coast, to review clean-up efforts. First Lady Michele Obama also visited Panama City Beach last month.

Republican critics says the latest trip is merely a photo opportunity that offers little help to the struggling economy.

At Treasure Island seafood market, fishmonger Joe Brown says it may be too late for the president's trip to change anything. He says sales are way down, as there are fewer boats bringing in fresh seafood, and fewer tourists to buy it.

"The damage is done. There is nothing he can do, unless he goes out there and puts a Tyvek suit on and starts cleaning up oil himself," said Brown.

Too late or not, the President shouldn't leave without tasting local oysters. Hunt's Oyster Bar has been serving oysters non-stop since the oil leak started. Robert Daffin stays busy prying open the shellfish to serve customers.

"Our specialty is fresh, cold Apalachicola oysters," said Daffin. "Right now they are very salty. You just get it open, make sure there is no shell in it. There you go, nice and salty. No oil there."

Daffin says he has seen the restaurant business go up this year,as more tourists came to Panama City Beach to avoid spots that were hit hard by oil. There is plenty left to share, however, including a dozen raw oysters he would offer the president if he came to the restaurant.

"Then I would add to that probably a dozen fried shrimp, some fresh gator tail. We do that blackened. And always grouper and snapper," he added.

Businesses like Hunt's are happy to have any visitors, not just the president.

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