ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President and first lady are walking out right now.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, walking toward the podium right now. So let's -- let's stop and listen to what he says.
HENRY: -- whose also his point person on long-time Gulf recovery. We haven't seen a lot of Ray Mavis because he's been working behind the scenes on all of this. So you're going to hear from the president about what he wants to do for this region.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good afternoon, everybody. Whoa. Good afternoon, everybody.
It is a privilege to be here in Panama City Beach with the men and women of the United States Coast Guard. I wanted to come here personally and express my gratitude to you for the effort that you've waged in response to the Bp oil spill. I know Michelle wanted to do the same. So we're looking forward to having a chance to shake hands with you and thank you personally for this great work you've been doing day in, day out.
Michelle just last month was down in Mississippi where she met folks from the Coast Guard about the spill and she had the chance to christen a new cutter, the Stratton. The Coast Guard was the first on the scene, immediately launching a search-and-rescue operation for the missing. You were the first to recognize that we were potentially looking at a massive spill even before the rig collapsed and the oil began to leak from the sea floor.
And a day and a half later, in a meeting with Thad Allen and others, I instructed the Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies to treat this response as their number one priority. That's exactly what all of you have done.
Under the leadership of Admiral Allen, the Coast Guard along with other federal agencies and states and local governments has directed the largest response to environmental disaster in American history. The responses included more than 7,000 vessels and more than 47,000 people on the ground. I know that two cutters, the Aspen and the Juniper, are here in port this week after tourist skimming and performing other recovery work.
As I said before, many folks here have toiled day and night, spending weeks, even months away from their families to stop the leak, remove the oil, and protect waters and coast lines. So I want to thank all those who continue to participate in this effort.
I also want to make mention and thank Dr. Steven Chu and our team of scientists, assembled from across federal agencies around the country and all over the world who have been working nonstop to kill the well once and for all.
This has not only been the biggest oil spill in our history, it's also been the most technologically complex. It's pushed the boundaries of our scientific know-how as engineers wrestled with a massive and unpredictable leak and faced setbacks and faced complications all in pitch black waters nearly a mile beneath the surface of the Gulf.
Well, today the well is capped. Oil is no longer flowing into the Gulf. It has not been flowing for a month. I'm here to tell you that our job is not finished, and we're not going anywhere until it is.
That's a message that I wanted to come here and deliver directly to the people along the Gulf coast. Because it's the men and women of this region who have felt the burden of this disaster, they've watched with anger and dismay as their livelihoods and their way of life has been threatened these past few months.
That's why I made a commitment in my visit here that I was going to stand with you not just until the well was closed and not just until the oil was cleaned up, but until you have fully recovered from the damage that's been done, and that is a commitment that my administration is going to keep.
That's also why my secretary of the Navy, Ray Mavis is here, the former governor of Mississippi a son of the Gulf. He has been traveling all across this region, gathering up in information and data to make sure that we're following through on our commitments for rebuilding.
I reiterated this just now when I met with a few small business owners from the Panama City area along with Governor Charlie Crist and not only the mayors of this region but also some of the business owners who are affected, folks like Captain Gary Jarvis, a charter boat operator.
Gary started fishing as a deckhand back in 1978 and he's been captain for the past three decades, making his living on the water. He's lost fully half of his business because of the spill, though he's been able to use his boat as a vessel of opportunity to make some money in the past few months. And he's extraordinarily knowledgeable about these waters being both a charter fisherman and a commercial fisherman and he had terrific suggestions about how working with scientists from NOAA and other federal agencies we can do even more to make sure that we're monitoring and maintaining and improving the fishing off the coast of Florida and across the Gulf.
I also had a chance to speak to Leanne Leonard, general manager of By the Sea Resorts. She's seen a big decline in tourism. June wasn't too bad but July was tough. And she's now hoping that August, September, and October can help them rebound from what have been significant losses.
I met with Carolyn who's got two commercial fishing boats and owns the Captain's Table Fish House in Panama City Beach with her husband and I appreciated the chance to sit down with them to hear firsthand what they've been going through and to make clear that we're going to keep standing by them.
Part of the concern that Carolyn expressed was the issue of seafood and our testing and making sure that it's safe, and we are all over that and monitoring that carefully each and every day. Hopefully continuing to deliver good news as the days go on. I mentioned to her that we already had some seafood in the White House when the New Orleans Saints came up. Had a couple of po boys, so right now we're feeling pretty good.
I also want to recognize that Mayor Gail Oburst (ph) and Mayor Scott Clemons had some terrific suggestions about how we might help to diversify the economies down here so that they're in a better position to -- if we ever had a crisis again, manage it, but more importantly, to provide more jobs and opportunity in this extraordinary and beautiful region.
Now, I want to go over a couple of the steps that we are going to be focused on over the next several weeks. First and foremost we're going to continue to monitor and remove any oil that reaches the surface and clean up any oil that hits the shore. As I mentioned, Gary has been offering up his ship as a vessel of opportunity and he confirms what you've been seeing in the news reports, that there aren't a lot of patches that are visible right now but we've got to constantly anticipate that at any given time you might see a patch of oil that starts coming in and we've got to be able to capture that before it hits these beautiful beaches around here.
As a result of the massive clean-up operation that's already taken place, a recent report from our top scientist found that the majority of the oil has now evaporated or dispersed, or it has been burned, skimmed, or recovered from the wellhead and the dispersed oil is in the process of degrading. But I will not be satisfied until the environmental has been restored, no matter how long it takes.
I also want to point out that as a result of the clean-up effort, beaches all along the Gulf Coast are clean, they're safe, and they're open for business. That's one of the reasons that Michelle, Sasha, and I are here. The governor and the mayors and others invited us down to enjoy the beach and the water, to let our fellow Americans know that they should come on down here. It is spectacular. Not just to support the region. Come down here because it's just a beautiful place to visit.
Next, we're going to continue testing fisheries, and we'll be reopening more areas for fishing as tests show that the water is safe. Already more than 26,000 square miles were reopened at the end of July and another 5,000 were reopened earlier this week.
I know this takes some time and it's been incredibly hard on the people who earn a living on the water. Carolyn's boats, for example have had to find different areas to fish, they are further away in require more fuel so she's been having to make some decisions maybe I don't send out my boat this time out. Their livelihoods, not to mention the health of the people across this country, obviously depends on making sure that folks can trust the seafood coming from the Gulf, trust that it's safe as it always has been.
As I told Carolyn, we've already been enjoying the Gulf seafood but we're going to keep on monitoring this to make sure that everybody's favorite seafood from the Gulf, favorite recipes are going to be treated -- are going to be just fine.
The third thing we're focused on is claims. When I came down to the Gulf previously, I heard a lot of frustration about the way Bp was handling claims. In June I met with Bp's executives. In that meeting they agreed to put aside $20 billion in a special fund to pay damages. It's being run by an independent overseer so the people can trust that they will get a fair shake.
Now we need to make sure claims are processed quickly because many who lost their only source of income, they don't have a lot of leeway. They don't have months to wait to be compensated.
The folks we just met with, they've all got outstanding claims. I want to be clear about this. Any delay by Bp or those managing the new funds are unacceptable and I'll keep pushing to get these claims expedited. Finally I charged as I mentioned earlier Ray Mavis to develop a long term Gulf Coast respiration plan as soon as possible.
That plan needs to come from the people in the Gulf, which is why he's been meeting with folks from across the region to develop this plan of action. That's how we can ensure that we do everything in our power to restore the environment and reverse the economic damage caused by the spill.
So, with the closure of the well, we mark an important milestone but this is not the end of the journey. And in completing work ahead, I'm reminded of what I heard when I was in Louisiana back in June. I spent time with folks on Grand Isle, meeting with fisherman and small business owners and the town's Mayor David Carbondale, and he told me what his friends and neighbors were going through. He talked about how hard things have been. He also explained the way folks rallied to support one another.
He said the people in this community may not have a lot of money but that didn't matter. We help each other. He said. That's what we do. That's what folks do for one another in the Gulf. That's what the Coast Guard has been doing for folks in need. That's what we do as Americans.
My job is to make sure that we live up to this responsibility, that we keep up our efforts until the environment is clean, polluters are held accountable, businesses and communities are made whole. And the people of the Gulf Coast are back on their feet.
So to the men and women of the Coast Guard thank you again for your extraordinary service, to the people here in the Gulf, we're going to be standing by your side, and to Americans all across the country, come on down and visit.
KEILAR: President Obama there in Panama City Beach, Florida, saying that his administration will stand with the Gulf Coast residents until they are fully recovered from the disaster down there promoting Gulf Coast tourism, which, of course, has suffered substantially. And also defending his administration's response to the disaster, his administration under some criticism on both fronts there. I'm Brianna Keilar at the CNN Center in Atlanta. I'll be right back with you here at the top of the hour.
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