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Obamas take boat tour on Florida Panhandle trip

By the CNN Wire Staff
President Obama, with daughter Sasha and the first lady, watch porpoises off Panama City Beach on Sunday.
President Obama, with daughter Sasha and the first lady, watch porpoises off Panama City Beach on Sunday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • First couple and younger daughter Sasha watch porpoises off Panama City
  • Obama's visit was aimed at boosting Gulf Coast recovery
  • Alabama mayor hopes to salvage "a good portion" of tourist season
  • The ruptured well was shut in a month ago

Panama City, Florida (CNN) -- President Barack Obama toured the waters off Panama City Beach by boat on Sunday as he capped a weekend visit aimed at sparking a recovery in the region hard-hit by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The president, first lady Michelle Obama and their younger daughter Sasha stood at the bow of the excursion boat watching porpoises jump around them before heading back to shore. The family returned to Washington on Sunday afternoon.

Speaking before a Saturday afternoon dip with his daughter, Obama said his administration remains committed to ensuring a full cleanup and recovery for a region hard-hit by the disaster -- and expressed hope that his holiday on the beach would change public perception and soften the economic blow of the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

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

Panama City Beach was hit by scattered tar balls and patches of oil from the ruptured undersea well at the heart of the disaster. But the bulk of the spill hit further west, near the mouth of the Mississippi River, and authorities are still struggling with the cleanup effort.

Obama said Saturday that "Our job is not finished, and and we are not going anywhere until it is."

"That's a message I wanted to come here and deliver directly to the people along the Gulf Coast," Obama said after meeting with government and business leaders in the Florida Panhandle resort. "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."

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.

Sunday marked a month since the BP-owned well was temporarily capped. Efforts to seal the well permanently are awaiting additional pressure tests that could take up to four days, former Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said Saturday.

Video: Obama: 'Our job is not finished'
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In Gulf Shores, Alabama, a resort town about 175 miles west of Panama City, Mayor Robert Craft told CNN that the last oil washed up on the white sands about three weeks ago, and visitors were coming back.

"We don't know what to expect and we certainly have no experience in dealing with it -- no training, no background and every day is a different day," he said. But he added, "The beaches are clean, and the water is open, and we still have hope to salvage a good portion of this year."

The disaster began with an April 20 explosion aboard the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon that killed 11 workers. More than 2 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico before the well was shut in. 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 Reynolds Wolf contributed to this report.

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