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'Our job is not finished,' Obama says on the Gulf Coast

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Obama: 'our job is not finished'
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: BP warns residents about scammers
  • President Obama swims in the Gulf of Mexico
  • Thad Allen is ordering BP to conduct more pressure tests
  • The president says he is committed to long-term recovery

Panama City, Florida (CNN) -- On a visit to the Gulf Coast on Saturday, President Barack Obama said that while the gushing undersea BP oil well had been capped, the administration remains committed to ensuring a full cleanup and recovery for those crippled by the disaster.

In an effort to boost tourism to the area, Obama also took a dip in the waters off Florida with one of his daughters.

"I'm here to tell you our job is not finished and and we are not going anywhere until it is," Obama said after meeting with government and business leaders in Panama City, Florida.

"That's a message I wanted to come here and deliver directly to the people along the Gulf Coast," he said. "Because it's the men and women of this region who have felt the burden of this disaster, who have watched with anger and dismay as their livelihoods and way of life were threatened these past few months."

Obama arrived in Florida on Saturday, his fifth visit to the Gulf Coast since the start of the oil disaster, with his wife, Michelle, and daughter Sasha. He will spend the weekend on the coast in a trip intended to relay long-term support for economically devastated areas.

By his holiday on the beach, he hoped to change public perceptions and mitigate the effects of the disaster.

"As a result of the cleanup effort, beaches all along the Gulf Coast are clean, safe, and open for business. That's one of the reasons Michelle, Sasha, and I are here," he said.

Many had wondered whether Obama would take a presidential plunge into the warm waters of the Gulf to send his message home.

Obama in fact did so Saturday, swimming off Alligator Point with Sasha. Obama caused a bit of a tabloid stir when he took off his shirt to reveal a muscular physique during trips to Hawaii in 2008.

The president and first lady participated in a roundtable discussion with Obama's Gulf Coast recovery chief, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and local mayors and business leaders in the Panama City area.

He said he spoke with Lee Ann Leonard, general manager of By the Sea Resorts, who has seen a big decline in tourism. She told Obama that June wasn't bad but July was tough and that she was hoping to rebound in August and September.

Visitors spent more than $34 billion in 2008 in congressional districts along the Gulf Coast, sustaining 400,000 jobs. The effects of the oil spill on the region's travel industry could last up to three years and cost up to $22.7 billion, according to an analysis conducted last month by Oxford Economics for the U.S. Travel Association.

Meanwhile, National Incident Commander Thad Allen said Saturday he is ordering BP to conduct additional pressure tests before giving a go ahead for finishing a relief well that would permanently seal the ruptured undersea well.

It will take a few days before the results of those tests are assessed, Allen said in a teleconference with reporters. It will take up to 96 hours after that before the well can be intercepted, he said.

BP on Saturday cautioned individuals and businesses to be alert for potential scams -- including door-to-door visits by unauthorized individuals seeking personal information or charge fees for safety training.

Video: Gulf area waits for Obama

"There have been isolated reports of incidents in which individuals posing as BP employees have gone to people's homes to scam residents," said Mike Utsler, chief operating officer of BP's Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, in a statement. "We want the community to know that neither BP nor its claims agency go door-to-door to collect personal data."

"Any data required for the claims process, employment opportunities or other matters is accepted only at BP claims centers and through authorized BP employees or representatives," Utsler said.

The BP oil well, which ruptured April 20 after an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, spilled more than 2 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico before being successfully shut.

Since then, fresh green grass has started growing again in some of the hardest-hit marshes of southern Louisiana, but oil continues to wash ashore in some places.

Obama said Saturday the government will continue to monitor the oil in the ocean as well as any that hits the shore.

"I won't be satisfied until the environment has been restored, no matter how long it takes," he said.

CNN's Ed Henry contributed to this report.

 
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