Florida hotels scramble as BP spill comes ashore

More clumps of oil washed up on Florida’s Pensacola Beach overnight, and local officials said hotels and restaurants aren’t getting reservation phone calls as the BP Plc spill hits the state’s tourism industry.

About 400 people are working to clean up tar balls that have come ashore, triple the number from yesterday, and an additional 100 are being trained, BP spokeswoman Lucia Bustamante said today at a press briefing in Escambia County in northwest Florida. A large sheen of oil with thick patches of “tar mats” was about 1 mile to 7 miles off the shore from Pensacola Beach, county officials said.

Florida officials and tourism industry executives are juggling two missions, working to protect the shore from oil spreading from the April 20 spill in the Gulf of Mexico while assuring tourists that the state’s 825 miles (1,327 kilometers) of beaches remained safe so far. Hotels relaxed cancellation policies for wary guests while updating photos on websites to show beaches that remained pristine.

While more and larger tar balls were washing ashore today in some places, including Perdido Key to the west of Pensacola, state and local officials haven’t closed beaches and most oil is being cleaned up within hours.

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