Efforts to plug BP’s oil well were stopped yesterday as ships prepared to pull out of the Gulf of Mexico as a tropical storm brewed in the Caribbean.
Although the bad weather was hundreds of miles from the site, officials ordered engineers to suspend work because they need several days to clear the area.
The US government's oil spill chief was waiting to see how the storm developed before deciding whether to order the evacuation.
Anxiety was building among the 75 crew aboard the Decisive, the Coast Guard's primary search and rescue vessel, which would be the last of about 65 ships to leave in the event of an evacuation.
The work was halted just days from completing a relief well to permanently close the leak.
Worse yet, bad weather could require reopening the cap that has contained the oil for nearly a week, allowing it to gush into the sea again while engineers wait out the storm.
The cluster of thunderstorms passed over Haiti and the Dominican Republic yesterday, and was forecast to move into the Gulf over the weekend with a 40% chance it would becoming a tropical tropical storm by today.
Workers stationed 50 miles out in the Gulf had planned to spend two days reinforcing with cement the last few feet of the relief tunnel that will be used to pump mud into the leak and block it permanently. But BP instead placed a temporary plug inside the tunnel in case it has to be abandoned.
If the workers are evacuated, it could be two weeks before they can resume effort to plug the well.
That would upset BP's timetable for finishing the relief tunnel this month and plugging the blown-out well by early August.