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VENICE, La. -- No remedy in sight, President Barack Obama on Sunday warned of a "massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster" as a badly damaged oil well in the Gulf of Mexico spewed a widening and deadly slick toward delicate wetlands and wildlife. He said it could take many days to stop.

Obama flew to southern Louisiana to inspect forces arrayed against the oil gusher as Cabinet members described the situation as grave and insisted the administration was doing everything it could. Then he took a 15-mile helicopter ride over marshlands and estuaries to a coastal area, but high winds prevented the craft from going out to the 30-mile oil slick caused by as much as 210,000 gallons of crude gushing into the Gulf each day.

The spill threatened not only the environment but also the region's abundant fishing industry, which Obama called "the heartbeat of the region's economic life." As of now, it appeared little could be done in the short term to stem the oil flow, which also was drifting toward the beaches of neighboring Mississippi and farther east along the Florida Panhandle. Obama said the slick was 9 miles off the coast of southeastern Louisiana.

Those who live and work in the region braced for the economic impact on fishing and tourism. In front of a cabin and RV park in Boothville, along Louisiana Highway 23, was a plywood sign pleading: "Obama Send Help!!!!"

BP Chairman Lamar McKay raised faint hope that the spill might be stopped more quickly by lowering a hastily manufactured dome to the ruptured wellhead a mile deep in the next six to eight days, containing the oil and then pumping it to the surface. Such a procedure has been used in some well blowouts but never at the mile-deep waters of this disaster. McKay on Sunday blamed failed equipment on a drilling rig for the oil-well blowout and subsequent huge leak.