The slick that struck there was spotted early in the day by vacationers in adjacent condo towers as well as a reconnaissance flight commissioned by Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. But an effort to corral the mess at sea became fruitless when a skimmer boat failed to arrive before choppy surf unleashed the oil from boat-pulled boom.
It began collecting on the beach around noon, witnesses said, and continued to ride the surf ashore 3½ hours later as crews scooped the soiled sand into plastic bags with gloved hands and feed shovels.
In the water, the oil was reddish and broken into small bits that resembled masses of sargassum or disintegrating driftwood. But when it latched onto the beach, its hue darkened and the pieces melted together in shiny globs, like chocolate that had exploded in a microwave, only toxic and as tacky as roof tar.
“This finally gives us an idea of what to expect,” said Orange Beach City Administrator Ken Grimes, who arrived with other officials from the neighboring city to survey the scene. “This is an example of what we’re going to be dealing with the rest of the summer.”