Cuba Braces for Possible Oil Spill "Disaster"

The Discoverer Enterprise, center, assists at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil leakover the Gulf of Mexico off of the Louisiana coast, June 15, 2010. AP Photo

Cuba's civil defense chief said Tuesday that authorities are preparing coastal residents for the oil spill fouling the Gulf of Mexico, and a top military official said its possible arrival would be "a disaster."

It still is unclear whether some of the millions of gallons of spilled crude will reach Cuba, though government scientists appeared on state television within days of the April 20 rig explosion that touched off the spill to say the island was not immediately at risk.

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So far there has been no apparent impact on tourism to the island's breathtaking north coast beaches.

"In Cuba we have had small spills involving tankers on our coasts, but we've never had to confront anything of this magnitude," Gen. Ramon Espinosa, vice minister of the armed forces, said at a government meeting on natural disaster preparedness. "Nonetheless we are documenting and studying. We are preparing with everything in our power."

Espinosa provided no details on preparations, but added that "for Cuba it would be a disaster" if the spill hits.

Some oil has already reached the coast of Florida, and scientists worry that crude will get caught up in the loop current, a ribbon of warm water that begins in the Gulf of Mexico and wraps around Florida.

U.S. and Cuban officials have put aside nearly 50 years of frigid relations to hold working-level talks on how to respond. Espinosa said he had no information on any concrete cooperation.

Speaking on the sidelines of the same event, Ramon Pardo, head of Cuban civil defense, also said he could not comment on discussions with Washington.

But Pardo said Havana "is taking all precautions: the preparation of the coast, vigilance, creating all necessary conditions, preparing the people who live on the coasts that could be impacted."

Both Espinosa and Pardo said the island will rely on the expertise of Venezuela, one of Cuba's top allies and a major oil producer.

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