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Tropical Storm Could Threaten Gulf Oil Cleanup

As Tropical Storm Alex begins passing through the Gulf of Mexico, U.S. Coast Guard officials are reassigning cleanup crews to chase the oil as it moves with the storm.

Coast Guard officials have been watching the path of Tropical Storm Alex as it moved across parts of Central America and Mexico in recent days. Forecasts show the storm moving away from the site of the underwater oil leak.

Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is overseeing the leak response, says officials have plans to evacuate ships from the area in case of a serious storm. But he says that so far, cleanup work has been unaffected.

"The current speed, direction and wind strength of [Tropical Storm] Alex do not indicate we should do anything regarding evacuations," he said. "They only impacts we are seeing now are sea state that are going to inhibit potentially the preparations we need to bring the third production vessel on line."

The BP oil company preparing a third ship to assist two other surface vessels that are siphoning oil from the undersea well. On Sunday, crews collected more than 24,000 barrels of oil. Admiral Allen says the third ship will increase capacity to 53,000 barrels per day, but that it might not begin operating until early next month because of the poor weather.

Tropical Storm Alex has changed the path of oil residue on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Admiral Allen says some cleanup crews who had been working off the coast of Florida are now being sent to Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.

"We now see oil start entering Mississippi sound, and areas around Chandeleur and Breton sound," added Allen. "We are very concerned about that. And we are moving forces there as we speak."

Two offshore rigs are drilling toward the damaged undersea well to prepare for an operation that is expected to plug the leak. Current estimates suggest that one of the wells might be completed by mid-August, possibly ending the massive leak that began on April 22.

U.S. officials say they are closely monitoring the weather for storms that might develop in the area before the well is completed. They say a hurricane would force all vessels to evacuate the area, causing a delay of at least 14 days in the drilling operations.