Dozens of ships are preparing today to pull out of the Gulf of Mexico as a tropical storm brews in the Caribbean, halting deep-sea efforts to plug BP's ruptured oil well. Though the rough weather is hundreds of miles from the spill site, officials ordered technicians to suspend work as they would need several days to clear the area. The government's oil spill chief was waiting to see how the storm developed before deciding whether to order the ships to evacuate.
The technicians were forced to halt their work just days from completing a relief well to permanently throttle the free-flowing crude. Worse yet, foul weather could require reopening the cap that has contained the oil for nearly a week, allowing oil to gush into the sea again while engineers wait out the storm. Crews had planned to spend yesterday and today reinforcing with cement the last few feet of the relief tunnel that will be used to pump mud into the gusher and block it once and for all. But BP instead placed a temporary plug called a storm packer inside the tunnel in case it has to be abandoned while the storm passes. (Read more Gulf oil spill stories.)