GRAND ISLE, La. -- The crashing waves and gusting winds churned up by Hurricane Alex put the Gulf oil spill largely in Mother Nature's hands Tuesday. Regardless of whether the storm makes things worse or even better, it has turned many people fighting the spill into spectators.
Oil-scooping ships in the Gulf of Mexico steamed to safe refuge because of the rough seas, which likely will last for days. Officials scrambled to reposition boom to protect the coast and had to remove barges that had been blocking oil from reaching sensitive wetlands.
Those operations could soon get a boost, as the U.S. accepted offers of help from 12 countries and international organizations. Japan, for instance, was sending two skimmers and boom.
National Weather Service official Mark Fox said Alex is expected to make landfall in northern Mexico and southern Texas as a Category 1 hurricane as early as 7 p.m. today. That is about 12 hours earlier than previously forecast.
Alex is projected to stay far from the spill zone and is not expected to affect recovery efforts at the site of the blown-out well. But the storm's outer edges complicated the cleanup as the oil turned whitecaps red.
Waves were as high as 12 feet in parts of the Gulf, according to the National Weather Service.
U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Dave French said all skimming efforts had been halted for now off the Louisiana coast. Wayne Hebert, who helps manage skimming operations for BP PLC, said all nearshore skimmers were idled off the coasts of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.
"Everyone is in because of weather, whether it's thunderstorms or (high) seas," Hebert said.
French said workers were using the time off the water to replenish supplies and perform maintenance work.
In Grand Isle, dozens of boats, from skiffs up to huge shrimp boats, were tied up at the docks, rocked by waves even in the sheltered marina.
"It's really rough out there," Coast Guardsman Zac Crawford said. "We want the oil cleaned up, but we want people to be safe. We don't want to lose anyone working on the spill."