MOUTH OF THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER – Oil from a massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico oozed into Louisiana's ecologically rich wetlands Friday as storms threatened to frustrate desperate protection efforts. The White House put a hold on any new offshore oil projects until safeguards are in place to prevent rig explosions like the one that caused the spill.
Boats patrolled coastal marshes early Friday looking for areas where the oil has flowed in, the Coast Guard said, and the state of Louisiana diverted thousands of gallons of fresh water from the Mississippi River to try to flush out the wetlands, though that effort was being hampered by wind.
The National Weather Service predicted winds, high tides and waves through Sunday that could push oil deep into the inlets, ponds and lakes that line the boot of southeastern Louisiana. Seas of 6 to 7 feet were pushing tides several feet above normal toward the coast, compounded by thunderstorms expected in the area Friday.
An animal rescue operation at Fort Jackson, about 70 miles southeast of New Orleans, had its first patient Friday, a young northern gannett found offshore.
The bird is normally white with a yellow head and long, pointed beak but was covered in thick, black oil. Workers with Delaware-based Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research used Dawn blue dishwashing soap to scrub it.
Volunteers started arriving in Venice, La., though there wasn't much for them to do because the weather was so bad. About two dozen workers in hard hats and lifejackets were stuck on shore at a marina, lounging on small work boats, some laden with boom, ready to go to work. Some smoked cigarettes and spat sunflower seeds as they waited for assignments.
Volunteer Valerie Gonsoulin, a 51-year-old kayaker from Lafayette who wore an "America's Wetlands" hat, said she hoped to help spread containment booms to hold back the oil.
"I go out in the marshes three times a week. It's my peace and serenity," she said. "I'm horrified. ... I've been sitting here watching that NASA image grow and it grows. I knew it would hit every place I fish and love."
President Barack Obama on Friday directed that no new offshore oil drilling leases be issued unless rigs have new safeguards. Obama ordered Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to report within 30 days on what new technologies are needed.
"We are making sure any leases going forward have those safeguards," said Obama at a White House Rose Garden event. He recently lifted a drilling moratorium for many offshore areas, including the Atlantic and Gulf.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon approved the use of two Air Force planes to dump chemicals on the oil spill, which civilian planes have already been doing.
The Navy also sent equipment for the cleanup, and Pentagon officials were talking with the Department of Homeland Security to figure out what other help the military could give.
Obama reassured Gulf Coast communities that the federal government is "fully prepared" to meet its responsibilities to them as the spill gets worse.