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Rough Waters Halt Gulf Coast Oil Skimming Operations


The U.S. Coast Guard says oil skimming operations have been suspended in the Gulf of Mexico, as Tropical Storm Alex nears hurricane strength, generating rough waters and high winds.

A hurricane warning is in effect for the Texas coast south of Baffin Bay to the mouth of the Rio Grande. The warning is also posted for the coast of Mexico from the mouth of the Rio Grande to La Cruz.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Tuesday that Alex had 110 kilometer-per-hour winds and was projected to make landfall by Wednesday. The storm is expected to stay well away from the site of oil company BP's leaking well.

The U.S. Coast Guard has said the storm is generating waves of more than three meters, making conditions too rough for oil skimmers and other cleaning vessels to safely operate. A Coast Guard spokeswoman tells VOA that oil collection and burning operations at the well site are continuing.

Meanwhile, the State Department announced Tuesday that the United States will accept 22 offers of assistance from 12 countries and international bodies to help clean up the spill. Officials issued a statement saying the U.S. is working out the specifics of the help accepted.

An April 20 explosion on a rig leased by BP killed 11 people and caused the leak that has been pouring tens of thousands of barrels of crude each day into the Gulf.

Earlier Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden visited the Gulf region to assess the response to the oil spill crisis.

He attended a briefing with state and federal officials in New Orleans along with more than 100 BP, government and military officials. He then traveled to a New Orleans, Louisiana seafood wholesale company to discuss how the crisis is affecting the seafood industry.

U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen says the rough waters could delay the installation of a new oil production vessel. The new ship could more than double the daily amount of oil being captured at the leaking well site to about 53,000 barrels per day. Allen - who is overseeing the leak response - says officials had hoped to have it operational by Thursday.

Large patches of oil have washed up on the shores of the southern U.S. state of Mississippi for the first time. In addition to Mississippi, oil has washed up along the coasts of Florida and Alabama, as well as in the hardest-hit wetlands of Louisiana.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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