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Oil outrage on Pensacola Beach

By Kim Segal and John Zarrella, CNN
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Oil ruins summer tourism for Pensacola
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "I don't know if we'll ever get it out," said Pensacola councilman of the oil-stained beach
  • Residents have taken to documenting the effects of the spill daily
  • Pensacola residents are frustrated with the pace of the cleanup

Pensacola, Florida (CNN) -- The beaches in Pensacola, Florida, are known for their soft, sugar-white sand. On a sunny day, the contrast of the pure white beach with the blue of the water is postcard perfect. But the scene has changed since the Gulf oil disaster.

"This sand has been stained, it's that brown gritty looking stain on there, I don't know if we'll ever get it out," says Larry Johnson, a Pensacola city councilman. There is no mistaking the anger in Johnson's voice. It is an anger and frustration that is shared by many in this beachside town.

Anger has turned residents Gregg Hall and Diana Stephens into activists. At least twice a day Hall and Stephens document what is happening on their beach, posting photographs and videos on several websites, including CNN's iReport.com.

Hall likes to show the oil in the water by dipping his uncovered hand in the Gulf of Mexico. "The stuff gets all over your hands, all over your body, it's really hard to get off and it's everywhere," says Hall. He says the demonstration is an effective way to show people the severity of the problem, echoed by the county health department's warning to stay out of the water.

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Cleaning crews have been hired to walk the beach and pick up tar balls and tar patties. Heavy machinery is also being used, but the surf is washing the oil and tar ashore faster than it can be picked up.

"It's kinda like cleaning this beach with a toothpick. It's an impossible task," says Stephens.

During Johnson's beach visit, the cleanup crews are hard to spot as they work the other end of the beach. "I think we need more crews out here cleaning up," says Johnson. "If they don't pick this stuff up when it's out here and the tide comes in and ends up burying it."

Weather conditions caused by Hurricane Alex made things worse. The stronger winds and higher tidal surge spread the oil farther up the shoreline while the rain delayed the manual cleanup process. Almost anywhere you dig, tar and brown streaks from the oil can be found inches below the sand's surface.

The oil could not have arrived at a worse time for the city.

The two biggest weekends of the year, Fourth of July and the Blue Angels naval aviators air show, are this weekend and next.

"We've lost this summer. The summer of 2010 is gone for Pensacola Beach, the way I see it," Johnson says. "I just hope we don't lose next summer, so BP needs to get on it and deal with this oil now so we maybe we can save the summer of 2011."

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