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Obama says gulf beaches are 'open for business'

The president and his family visit the Florida Panhandle, and he even takes a dip in the Gulf of Mexico.

August 15, 2010|By Peter Nicholas, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Panama City Beach, Fla. —

He swam in the Gulf of Mexico and played putt-putt golf — touchstones of a real Gulf Coast vacation.

President Obama wasn't in town long — a little more than a day — but he made sure to deliver a message that despite the BP oil spill, "beaches all along the Gulf Coast are clean, they are safe, and they are open for business."

Proving the point, he jumped in the water himself along with his daughter Sasha. Reporters weren't permitted to see the presidential torso splashing about, but the White House posted a photo online that showed him from the shoulder up.

After arriving in the Florida Panhandle on Saturday, the president and First Lady Michelle Obama met with local businesspeople for a round-table discussion about how the spill had sapped revenues.

The crippled undersea well has not spewed oil since July 15, when it was sealed with a temporary cap. In the coming days, BP will intersect the original well deep underground with a relief well, injecting mud and concrete to ensure the well is dead. Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the federal spill response chief, said Saturday he was ordering BP to conduct more tests and offer more-detailed plans for dealing with potential complications before giving the go-ahead to complete the relief well.

The Obamas planned to leave for Washington on Sunday.

Before taking his swim, Obama told photographers not to expect a shot of him shirtless. He joked that the last time he went to the beach without his shirt, pictures of his bare torso turned up on magazine covers. When a reporter joked that was a good thing, Michelle Obama, standing nearby, shook her head and said, smiling, "No, it's not."

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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