SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Working against choppy waters, crews began pumping heating oil Sunday from a crippled barge that spilled more than 828,000 gallons after running aground off a wildlife refuge in a storm.
Meanwhile, the oil had spread, and the barge was still leaking, though at a much lesser rate than before. The spill is the largest in state history.
About 11,000 lobsters and dozens of birds coated with oil, many of them dead, washed up on Rhode Island's southern coast, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. An estimated 75,000 waterfowl, including rare harlequin ducks, live in the Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge area.
Fishing was banned in a 105 square-mile area.
Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Almond declared an emergency and requested federal disaster relief funds to help pay for the cleanup. In a phone call, President Clinton assured him funds would be made available for the cleanup and fishing industries.
By Sunday night, about 1.2 million gallons had been pumped into another barge and the remainder was expected to be emptied today. The barge had been carrying 4 million gallons of oil.
The spill was being pushed out to sea by the wind but had spread from Rhode Island's southern coast 12 miles to a pond on Block Island that is a spawning area for flounder. Environmental officials said most of the oil there had evaporated or dissipated.
The oil extended south to the island, east along the coast to Port Judith Pond and west to Charlestown Pond, about 10 miles from the Connecticut line.
The Coast Guard set up booms around the barge and other coastal salt ponds.
Eklof Marine, the New York City concern that owns the barge and tugboat, said it has taken responsibility for the spill and hired workers and 10 vessels to help with the cleanup.
Heating oil is much lighter than other fuels, such as crude oil, and easily evaporates. The Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil off Alaska.
The barge, en route from New York's Staten Island to Providence, ran aground Friday night after its tugboat caught on fire and the six-member crew evacuated in 60-mph winds, 15-foot waves and driving rain. The Coast Guard rescued them.