Even though the evacuation turned out to be short-lived, it revealed one important fact: BP and the federal government increasingly are sure that the temporary plug that has mostly contained the oil for eight days will hold.
They didn’t loosen the cap even when they thought they’d lose sight of it during the evacuation, although in the end, at least some of the real-time cameras trained on the ruptured well apparently kept rolling.
Ironically, the storm may even have a positive effect. Churning waters could actually help dissipate oil in the water, spreading out the surface slick and breaking up tar balls, said Jane Lubchenco, leader of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Beaches may look cleaner in some areas as the storm surge pulls oil away, though other areas could see more oil washed ashore.
“I think the bottom line is, it’s better than it might have been,” Ms. Lubchenco said.
At the site of the relief well, workers who spent Thursday and Friday pulling nearly a mile of segmented steel pipe out of the water and stacking the 40-to-50 foot sections on deck will now have to reverse the process. It will likely be Monday before BP can resume drilling.
By Wednesday, workers should finish installing steel casing to fortify the relief shaft, Adm. Allen said, and by Friday, crews plan to start blasting in heavy mud and cement through the mechanical cap, the first phase of a two-step process to seal the well for good. BP then will finish drilling the relief tunnel — a process that could take up to a week — to pump in more mud and cement from nearly two miles under the sea floor.
Meanwhile, folks in the oil-affected hamlet of Grand Isle, La., spent a gray Saturday at the beach, listening to music. The Island Aid concert, which included LeAnn Rimes and Three Dog Night, raised money for civic projects on the island.
For the afternoon at least, things were almost back to normal. Young women in bathing suits rode around on golf carts while young men in pickup trucks tooted their horns and shouted.
“This is the way Grand Isle is supposed to be but hasn’t been this year,” said Anne Leblanc of Metairie, La., who said her family has been visiting the island for years. “This is the first we came this year. With the oil spill there hasn’t been a reason to come — no swimming, no fishing.”
Associated Press writers Tamara Lush in New Orleans and Mary Foster in Grand Isle, La., contributed to this report.