At last, it's here: after more than two weeks of waiting, the eerie pinkish-orange foam mixture of seawater and crude oil that has been creeping ominously closer to has now begun to wash ashore the barrier islands off the coast of Louisiana. It lapped up Thursday onto the Chandeleur Islands and New Harbor Island, both national wildlife refuges, and has now also been spotted at Freemason Island. The gooey substance apparently looks like soggy cornflakes, probably due to the dispersant chemicals intended to break up the oil before it hit land, which is itself highly toxic. Wired says a better product could have been used. Big rusty streaks and hundreds of dead jellyfish are floating west of the mouth of the Mississippi River, where Louisiana officials have now barred shrimping.
Further out to sea, a massive dome began its descent into the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday night to cap the gushing oil leak. The giant 100-ton concrete and steel box has to be lowered about 5,000 feet below the surface by a crane, an untested strategy. Officials are expressing hope, but not too much confidence that it'll work. "It's been done before but never at these depths," said Adm. Thad Allen, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. Likewise, BP spokesman David Nicholas cautioned, "We haven't done this before. It's very complex, and we can't guarantee it." The AP got an oil expert from the University of Texas to explain exactly how the mechanism is supposed to work:
If all goes according to plan, it should be operational by Sunday, and officials should know "very quickly" whether or not it's fixing the problem. But the work is risky; operations already had to be postponed once Thursday night because of fumes rising from the oily water, which could burst into fire if any metal-on-metal scraping were to cause sparks. For more on the mechanics of the operation, the Times-Picayune has a useful infographic of the machinations now underway under the water, and another one on the size and shape of the gigantic slick on its surface.
Meanwhile, on the human side, having resigned themselves to yet another man-made environmental disaster, New Orleanians are now facing down the prospect of a summer without crayfish and wondering what will become of their city's post-Katrina recovery. Like a string ensemble playing on the deck of the Titanic, musicians like Treme-based Shannon Powell keep on jamming at their jazz gigs, praying, and waiting.