Aug 15, 2010 2:52 PM by Chris Welty
PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (AP) - President Barack Obama and his
family cruised the waters off their Florida Panhandle hotel on
Sunday, offering a portrait of a family on vacation to boost a
region struggling with the economic damage wrought by the nation's
worst oil spill.
The Obamas boarded the 50-foot Bay Point Lady on a rainy,
overcast morning, the second and final day of a weekend getaway
during which the president assured residents that his
administration would not forget the region even after oil stopped
spewing from a broken oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. The family
was expected to return to Washington by Sunday evening.
With first lady Michelle Obama and 9-year-old daughter Sasha
beside him, Obama leaned over the bow of the Bay Point Lady to
watch porpoises as their boat cut through the calm waters of St.
Andrews Bay. Back on shore, the family stopped for treats - mint
chocolate chip ice cream for the president, Oreo ice cream for
Sasha, and a hot fudge sundae without whipped cream for the first
lady - before heading home.
The Obamas' 12-year-old daughter, Malia, didn't make the trip
because she's away at summer camp.
Obama's 27-hour trip to the Gulf region was his fifth since oil
started fouling Gulf waters following an April 20 explosion on an
offshore rig operated by oil giant BP. Though the well is no longer
leaking, he emphasized that the government's work in the region is
far from over.
"I'm here to tell you that our job is not finished and we are
not going anywhere until it is," Obama said Saturday.
Much of the long-term recovery efforts in the Gulf will focus on
restoring the region's economy, which in areas like the Florida
Panhandle is heavily dependent on tourism. Most of the region's
beaches stayed open throughout the spill, yet many potential
visitors stayed away, apparently deterred by images of oil-slicked
waters and tarball-strewn beaches in other parts of the region.
While both the president and the first lady encouraged Americans
to take their summer vacations on the Gulf Coast, they were
criticized for not following their own advice, instead traveling to
North Carolina and Maine and planning a trip later this month to
Martha's Vineyard. Mrs. Obama also took Sasha to Spain.
The White House hoped images from the weekend jaunt to the Gulf
would end that criticism. To the delight of locals, Obama took
Sasha for a dip Saturday, a signal to other would-be Gulf
vacationers that the water and the beaches are fine
The president's swim happened out of sight of the news media.
The White House released an official photo, but The Associated
Press does not publish such handout images. According to the White
House, the Obamas swam off Alligator Point, which is in Saint
Andrews Bay, not the Gulf.