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Obama, Gulf Coast Residents Mark Oil Spill Anniversary

Madison Smith of Cincinnati lies in the sun on the beach in Perdido Key, Fla., as oil spill cleanup workers search for tar balls a year after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, April 19 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama says crews have made significant progress in cleaning up last year's prolonged oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but he says the job is not done.

President Obama issued the statement Wednesday, the one-year anniversary of the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The blast killed 11 people and touched off an 85-day, underwater leak that spewed nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf. It was the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Obama said his administration is committed to doing "whatever is necessary" to protect and restore the Gulf Coast. He said the government continues to hold the BP oil company and other responsible parties fully accountable for the damage and painful losses they caused.

BP set aside nearly $41 billion last year to cover costs related to the disaster. It set up a $20 billion fund to cover compensation claims from individuals and businesses affected by the spill. The group administering the fund said Monday that it has only paid out $3.8 billion so far.

Experts say while the initial damage does not look as bad as feared, it will be years before the full effect of the spill on the environment is known.

Families of those killed in the April 20, 2010 blast are marking the day with solemn events, while Gulf communities are holding vigils, and gatherings focused on environmental awareness.

Tourists have been returning to the beaches this season, after the crisis at peak season last year prompted many to change their vacation plans. But fishermen say their business has not recovered. And residents say the sand and soil on the coast is still saturated with foul-smelling, oily residue.

The United States announced in December that it is suing oil giant BP and eight other companies for their roles in the spill.

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