NEW ORLEANS (AP):
RELATIVES FLEW over Gulf of Mexico waters on Wednesday where 11 oil rig workers died a year ago.
Residents gathered in quiet prayer vigils onshore and President Barack Obama vowed to hold BP and others accountable for "the painful losses that they've caused".
Sombre remembrances marked the one-year anniversary of the rig explosion that caused the worst offshore oil spill in American history. But all is not bleak. Beaches, restaurants and hotels are filling up again, and experts say the resilient Gulf is on the mend.
The disaster began on the night of April 20, 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon rig burst into flames and killed the 11 men. The rest of the crew evacuated, but two days later the rig toppled into the Gulf and sank to the sea floor. Over the next 85 days, 206 million gallons of oil - 19 times more than the Exxon Valdez spilled - spewed from the well.
Parents, siblings and wives of the workers - whose bodies were never recovered - boarded a helicopter Wednesday to see the waters where their loved ones perished. The helicopter took them from New Orleans out to the well site, circled around so that people on both sides of the aircraft could see and then returned to shore, said Arleen Weise, whose son, Adam, was killed on the rig. The only indication they were at the site was an announcement from the pilot, she said.
"It was just a little emotional, seeing where they were," Weise said by phone from Houston, where rig owner Transocean planned an evening memorial service.
Asked what went through her mind when she saw where the rig went down, Weise said, "Just rise up. I wanted them to come up, but it didn't happen."
In a statement, President Barack Obama paid tribute to those killed in the blast and said that despite significant progress towards mitigating the spill's worst impacts, "the job isn't done".
"We continue to hold BP and other responsible parties fully accountable for the damage they've done and the painful losses that they've caused," he said.
A presidential commission has concluded that a cascade of technical and managerial failures - including a faulty cement job - caused the disaster. BP, the oil giant which owns the blown-out well, has paid billions in clean-up costs and to compensate victims.
The company has estimated its total liability at $40.9 billion, but it might have to pay billions more, especially if its officials were to be found criminally negligent in still-pending investigations and trials. For now, though, the company has rebounded relatively well, with its stock now just 20 per cent below its pre-spill value.
At a candlelit ceremony in New Orleans' Jackson Square shortly after sunrise, environmentalists and religious leaders joined to remember the perished rig workers and urged the nation to take steps to prevent another environmental catastrophe.