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Oil washes onto Mississippi coast for first time

By Leigh Coleman

OCEAN SPRINGS, Mississippi (Reuters) - Large patches of thick oil from the BP Plc Gulf of Mexico spill washed ashore for the first time in Mississippi on Sunday and residents were outraged that authorities did not clean it up.

Hundreds watched as gluey gobs of brown oil and rainbow oil sheen sloshed onto tourist beaches at Ocean Springs, about 10 miles east of Biloxi, and at a beach used by fisherman that is close to an inland marsh.

"This might be the last time we are able to come to the beach. What makes us so mad about all of this is that it could have been avoided. All of it," said James Vogeney, 56, who grew up in Ocean Springs.

"Life as I know it is over. What are we going to do if nobody cares to act fast enough," said Mike Hollings, a local resident who cried as he stared at the oil on the beach.

Wildlife officials picked up one pelican covered in oil and one dead turtle.

Mississippi state officials and the Coast Guard, who said they were expecting more oil to arrive, were waiting for BP contractors to start cleaning up before beginning coordinated work.

"We cannot clean up or catch the oil until BP gets here. They have all of our people," said Earl Etheridge, a spokesman for Mississippi's Department of Environmental Quality. "We want to clean this up now. Maybe this will amp up BP's effort but we can't do anything because they have all the money."

Later, a Reuters reporter visited seven beaches affected by the oil and saw only one clean-up crew at work.

Efforts to contain and clean up oil from the massive spill that began in April are being handled jointly by federal, state and local officials and funded by BP, leading to frustration among people whose coastlines are most at risk.

'WE TRIED EVERYTHING'

Louisiana's fragile wetlands have been hardest hit by the oil but Mississippi had escaped damage until Sunday, although some oil has tainted its barrier islands. Oil has also come ashore in Alabama and Florida's Gulf coast.

City board member Matt McDonnell said BP has failed the coast miserably.

"We tried everything to keep this oil from washing on our shores and look what has happened today," McDonnell said. "It is now David versus Goliath on water."

Tar balls and patches of oil sheen are supposed to be contained and then removed under a program funded by BP called "Vessels of Opportunity," under which contractors are trained, paid and equipped to do the work.

Local officials said they made a flurry of calls to the unified command charged with managing the spill, and on Sunday Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran called the failure of that program for her city shameful.

What made it worse was that orange emulsified oil 10 feet wide and five miles long was floating off Mississippi's Horn Island in the Gulf and the only boat in the vicinity equipped to skim up the oil was not working, Moran said.

"It's absolutely outrageous. Obviously nothing is being coordinated. It's an absolute shame that they're not responding," Moran said.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour on Sunday ordered the construction of 23 skimmers to go on boats, with BP paying the costs, state officials said, adding that the skimmers would start work by July 5.

(Writing by Matthew Bigg; Editing by Philip Barbara)

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