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Pensacola to President: Save our beaches

PENSACOLA -- Hours ahead of addressing the nation, President Barack Obama came to Florida's ground zero in the Deepwater Horizon environmental crisis -- this Panhandle community reeling from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Inside a hangar at the Pensacola Naval Air station, Obama called the oil an ``assault on our shores'' that would be fought with all the government's resources.

``Here in Pensacola the beautiful beaches are still open, the sand is white, the water is blue,'' said Obama, who earlier visited the Fish Sandwich Snack Bar, which has lost about 40 percent of its business because of perceptions the beaches are closed. ``People need to know Pensacola is open for business.''

Obama also praised the men and women of each branch of the military working on the beaches, skimming and laying boom.

At the Fish Sandwich Snack Bar, owned by Mike and Laura Pinzone, Obama said he wanted every business person in Florida to know that he would be ``their fierce advocate'' in making sure they were getting compensation.

``So the key right now is just to make sure that people like Mike are helped, that they're able to get through what's going to be a tough time,'' said Obama, who said he would be speaking about how businesses would be helped in his address Tuesday evening.

Earlier, in a blue shirt and black pants, Obama walked the white sandy beach with Gov. Charlie Crist and Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen.

Three boats could be seen out in the water, and some bathers in the water, which was beautiful, glistening in the sun. Down the beach, some 200 yards away, a knot of people chanted, ``Save our beach. Save our beach.''

Obama was on the second day of his fourth trip to the region since an explosion April 20 aboard the British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon rig.

Earlier Tuesday, BP said a small fire, believed to have been caused by lightning, occurred aboard the Discoverer Enterprise, which is helping capture oil from the spill. As a precaution, the system siphoning oil from a containment cap above the gushing well was shut down. BP said it would be restarted Tuesday afternoon.

Since then, millions of gallons of crude and chemical dispersants have been unleashed on the Gulf. It is slowly making its way to this Sunshine State coast and has already materialized in the form of gooey tar, weathered oil and sheens.

Obama said Allen had assigned an oil incident commander specifically for Florida and would set up a management team in Tallahassee, as well.

In Tallahassee, the word from the state Republican Party was too little, too late, too remote.

Rather than address the nation ``from the comfort of the Oval Office,'' Florida GOP chairman John Thrasher said in a release, ``he should have mounted the courage to give his address to the nation facing those impacted across the Gulf region.''

Of Obama's two-day trip, his first to Florida since the oil spill, Thrasher said it was a ``public relations endeavor'' but expressed the hope it would produce ``a concrete plan to address this disaster, rather than a two-day photo-opportunity at the expense of the American taxpayer.''

Obama's motorcade left Pensacola Beach's Crowne Plaza Hotel with his environmental advisor Carol Browner in the car. A handful of people were gathered along the route and one had a sign declaring, ``Thanks for your support, Mr. President. You still have mine.''

His route took him past people lining the roadway with boom clearly visible in the distance.

In a sign of the anger at BP, and its president, Tony Hayward, one protester held a sign up as the motorcade went by: ``Kick Tony's ass for us,'' it said.

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