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Oil Spill: BP Oil Spill reminds Tampa of 1993 spill

7:51 AM, May 4, 2010   |    comments
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St. Pete Beach, Florida - Bruno Falkenstein has been looking out at the Gulf for most of his life and the view from the rooftop of his Hurricane restaurant can't be beat.

"We look like we're in the Bahamas today," says Falkenstein gazing out off the shores of Pass-A-Grille beach.

But nearly 17 years ago, the view from here was much different. Falkenstein watched in horror as a slick from the largest oil spill in Tampa Bay's history made its way to the coast.

Photo Gallery: Pictures of the 1993 Tampa Bay oil spill

"It looked like a cloud in the water that was moving towards us and we could just hold our breath and wait 'til it hit shore," said Falkenstein.

In August of 1993, three vessels collided at the mouth of Tampa Bay. The accident started a fire and spilled more than 300,000 gallons of heavy oil and jet fuel.

Thirteen miles of Pinellas beach became a black, gooey mess. "If you walked across it, it stuck to the bottom of your feet," described Falkenstein.

Falkenstein's restaurant and other beach businesses suffered and so did wildlife.

Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary hospital director Barbara Suto and a team of volunteers spent 18-hour days trying to save hundreds of oil-soaked birds.

"It's oil, it's a toxin," says Suto. "Birds' skin is very thin, so it goes in and starts affecting their systems."

With the experience of '93 behind them, this latest Gulf disaster near Louisiana has both bird doctor and businessman worried. "It brings back horrid memories," says Falkenstein.

And both are watching the spill closely. If not here, they fear someplace else will get hit and hit hard. Suto observes, "When you think about the Gulf, it's surrounded on three sides by land. It's going to hit somewhere."

Kathryn Bursch, 10 Connects

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