Thick deadly crude oil has begun creeping eastward in Prince William Sound, the first sign in the two weeks of the spill that oil is moving toward Cordova.
John Robinson of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Saturday oil was spotted "fairly close" to Hinchinbrook Island on Saturday morning. Oil also had hit the beach on the northern tip of Montague Island, he said, indicating the crude was working its way east.
"This is the first time we've had oil over on that side of the Sound," Robinson said. "There's been no significant movement to the east until today."
"I would think right now we don't have a problem but we'll have to check it every morning and every night to make sure," he said.
Since the tanker Exxon Valdez dumped more than 10 million gallons of North Slope crude two weeks ago, the oil has stayed pretty much in the western part of the Sound, washing over islands and draining out to the Gulf of Alaska through Montague Strait. The oil, pushed along by the wind, "has been kind of like an escalator moving its way down to there," Robinson said.
Scientists are hoping the oil will find a passage out of the east side of the Sound through Hinchinbrook Entrance, and stay away from Cordova, a few miles to the east. Hinchinbrook Entrance is the designated tanker route out of the Sound.
Communities on the western side of the Gulf of Alaska were still bracing for oil to sweep across their areas on Saturday, but the wind and tides joined forces to give them at least a brief respite.
Seward and Homer reported the oil that has been threatening their coasts stayed in much the same place as it had been on Friday afternoon. And Kodiak officials said oil actually appeared to be moving away from that island community.
Robinson of NOAA, whose agency has been flying over all portions of the oil slick at least twice a day, said "oil of any serious consequence" extends out to about the Chiswell Islands, about 40 miles south of Seward.
Oil sheens, from which much of the toxic properties have already evaporated, extend to Gore Point about 30 miles from the opening to Cook Inlet.
The finger heading toward Kodiak was reported 90 miles from the island on Saturday; it had been closer about 30 miles off on Friday, and officials speculated that the sheen had weathered and dissipated.
"In the big scheme of things, there is not oil out there like we've been suffering here with in Prince William Sound," Robinson said. "I hate to minimize it because if you're the one that gets hit with one of these bullets you're going to feel it."
Robinson said the oil now has had several days at sea to evaporate. It's been churned up and buffeted by sea and wave action, causing the lighter, toxic components to evaporate off.
"It's still got the potential for causing a great deal of grief to otters and birds . . . but it's nothing like we have here in the Sound."
Late Saturday afternoon, reconnaissance teams from Seward spotted a floating puddle of oil, about a halfmile in diameter, about halfway up Resurrection Bay, said Linda Orlando of the Seward response team.
But the main body of the slick still seemed to be bypassing the bay, moving along the coastline to the west, she said.
Saturday, Peter Fitzmaurice, chief ranger for Kenai Fiords National Park, said "things are still holding."
The strong southerly winds expected on Saturday never materialized, he said.
Still, he said, reports were coming in Saturday that oil was washing ashore on some of the park's outer islands and points of land that jut farther out into the Gulf.
One boat reported a finger of heavier oil a couple of miles west of Seal Rocks and just south of Two Arm Bay, he said, adding that there were said to be dead murres floating in the mass.
"The bulk of the material is still a few miles from the shoreline and moving along the shore with the prevailing current," Fitzmaurice said.
Several boats spent Saturday booming off James and McCarty lagoons in the Nuka Bay area, so all booms proposed by the National Park Service are in place, he said.
Steve Butterworth of the Seward response group said the weather was expected to change in the next two days, and no one was sure how the coastal areas would be affected.
A Navy skimmer was at work in the mouth of Resurrection Bay and five more boats were either putting down more boom or ferrying biologists to various points, he said.
To the west, Homer was stepping up its spill response activities, figuring out the best places to deploy boom, said Ron Smith, a spokesman for the Homer response team.
Saturday's overflight indicated the slick was still 21|2 to 5 miles off Gore Point, he said, noting "so it hasn't moved a whole lot."
He said Homer officials expect the tides and currents to move the slick back and forth along the coastline, rather than moving it much farther westward for now.
In Kodiak, people were "cautiously optimistic" that the spill might miss them altogether.
Linda Freed of the Kodiak Island Borough said the light sheen that was 30 miles from the island on Friday was gone and the closest sheen was 90 miles away on Saturday.
The closest patch of heavy oil was about 120 miles east at the Chiswell Islands, she said.
The forecast called for winds to continue blowing the oil toward Kodiak until today, then shift and take it away from the community.
Meanwhile, log booms were defending Portage Bay, Pauls Bay, Litnik Bay and the Kitoi Hatchery at Afognak Island. And residents were coming up with new ways to make boom curtains to prevent oil from moving ashore, Freed said.
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