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Oil leak's effects surpass Coast; Food deliveries may face delays

The calamitous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico isn't just a mess for the people who live or work on the coast. If you drink coffee, eat shrimp, like bananas or plan to buy a new set of tires, you could end up paying more because of the disaster.

The slick has forced the shutdown of the gulf's rich fishing grounds and could also spread to the busy shipping lanes at the mouth of the Mississippi River, tying up the cargo vessels that move millions of tons of fruit, rubber, grain, steel and other commodities and raw materials in and out of the nation's interior.

Though a total shutdown of the shipping lanes is unlikely, there could be long delays if vessels are forced to wait to have their oil-coated hulls power-washed to avoid contaminating the Mississippi.

Some cargo ships might choose to unload somewhere else in the U.S. That could drive up costs.

"Let's say it gets real bad. It gets blocked off and they don't let anything in. They lose time, and they are very concerned about that," said river pilot Michael Lorino. "It's going to be very costly if they have to unload that cargo in another port and ship it back here because it was destined for here."

Shifting and easing winds on Monday bought time for weather-beaten crews to bottle up and burn off the massive slick of rust-colored crude oil before it fouls fragile marshes and sugary beaches across four Gulf Coast states.

That reprieve, however, could also have a nasty ripple effect - pushing outlying plumes of polluted surface water and patches of tar balls into the Gulf of Mexico's powerful loop current. That would propel the mess across the mangrove islands, seagrass beds and coral reefs of the Florida Keys, then up toward Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale and beyond.

Trajectories from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggest the oil will remain offshore at least through today, and a University of Miami oceanographer said a weather front expected in 24 to 48 hours will likely begin pushing the spill away from the Gulf Coast and toward the loop current.

Chemical dispersants pumped into the Gulf near where the oil is spewing from the seafloor seemed to be helping to keep oil from floating to the surface, officials reported in a midafternoon briefing, but efforts to activate a shutoff valve underwater continued to be unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, BP officials said they'd try today to place the first of three 98-ton steel and concrete containment domes over one of the leaks in hopes of capturing the escaping oil and pumping it to an oil tanker. Officials said they hope that two other containment domes would be in place within the week.

The containment domes, however, aren't certain to work, and preparations continued throughout the Gulf Coast for environmental disaster.

"The magnitude of this spill is daunting," said Michael Sole, Florida's secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, "We still have an ongoing release of some 5,000 barrels of oil occurring just 50 miles off Louisiana. It's not like 'We had a spill. We're cleaning it up and it'll be over.'"

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist Monday added 13 more counties to his declaration of a state of emergency, bringing the total number of countries now threatened by the slick to 19.

"It is an enormous mess," Crist said. "It is unbelievable, the magnitude of this thing. Clearly every effort needs to be put on plugging the hole up and stopping the bleeding."

Attorneys general from the five Gulf Coast states also asked President Obama to take legal steps necessary to lay blame for the oil leak.

BP said Monday it would compensate people for "legitimate and objectively verifiable" claims from the explosion and spill, but Obama and others pressed the company to explain exactly what that means.

By all accounts, the disaster is certain to cost BP billions. But analysts said the company could handle it; BP is the world's third-largest oil company and made more than $6 billion in the first three months of this year. The oil spill has drained $32 billion from BP's stock market value.

The spill's political ramifications also were being felt far beyond the Gulf of Mexico. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced he could no longer support a controversial new offshore oil drilling project off the Santa Barbara coast.

The plan would have generated $119 million for the cash-strapped state's 2010-11 budget by allowing an oil company to drill from an already existed rig. Schwarzenegger, however, said the risk was simply too high.

The Associated Press and the Washington Bureau contributed to this report.

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