President Barack Obama inspected areas of the U.S. Gulf coast on Friday, underscoring his personal concern about the disastrous deep sea oil leak, and his intention to direct what he called a full force response to the crisis.
Accompanied by key local officials and reporters, the president walked across areas of beach on the Louisiana coast, at one point stooping to pick up tar balls from the surf.
The president and his entourage passed groups of local people, some of them holding signs including one that read "Help Us Obama" and "Clean up the Gulf".
Flanked by Gulf coast governors, the president made what he called a solemn pledge to people in the Gulf area.
"I give the people of this community, and the entire Gulf my word, that we're going to hold ourselves accountable to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to stop this catastrophe, to defend our natural resources, to repair the damage and to keep this region on its feet," said President Obama.
The president said he has ordered a tripling of manpower in areas of the Gulf where oil has already hit the shoreline, or is within 24 hours of doing so.
The president interrupted a Memorial Day holiday stay with his family in Chicago to fly to the Gulf, amid an intense national debate over the administration response to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion on April 20 and what has become the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
At a White House news conference on Thursday, the president again denied assertions by critics the government sat on the sidelines in the early stages of the situation.
But he acknowledged misjudging the oil industry's capacity to cope with a situation of this magnitude, and pledged again to end what he has called a "cozy and sometimes corrupt" relationship between government regulators and the oil industry.
President Obama said BP remains the responsible party for the disaster, and will be held accountable for damages, saying his administration will make sure the company fulfills its commitments.
In testimony to congressional committees this week, BP America chief Lamar McKay pointed to what he called the failure of a number of processes, systems and equipment.
"I want to reiterate our commitment to finding out what happened," said Lamar McKay.
The president has ordered restrictions on oil drilling projects, and accelerated a reorganization of a government agency that approves offshore drilling licenses. He has also said the Gulf situation underscores the urgency of shifting to renewable energy.
Former U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen, who is overseeing operations, said Friday in a technique known as "top kill", heavy drilling mud was able to push down the oil and gas from the leaking well but had not overwhelmed the leak or stopped the flow.
BP has said operations continue and that results would still not be known for another 24 to 48 hours.