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Tropical storm halts BP oil well relief effort

Tropical Storm Bonnie has forced a stop in efforts to permanently seal BP's blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico.

By late Thursday evening, Thad Allen, the retired Coast Guard admiral who leads the federal response effort, said many vessels at the well site were preparing to leave, The New York Times reports.

Among those preparing to evacuate, he said, was a drill rig that is working on a relief well, which is considered the ultimate way to seal the well. It was beginning the process of disconnecting a riser pipe from the rig to the seabed and pulling it up, a process expected to take up to 12 hours.

The decision to leave the well capped means that scientists with the government and with BP think that the well is undamaged and that there is little risk it would deteriorate if kept under pressure, as it has been since valves on a new cap were closed a week ago.

"We have enough confidence to leave the well shut in," Kent Wells, a senior vice president of BP, said in a conference call with reporters in Houston.

This morning, the National Hurricane Center said a tropical storm watch had been issued for the Northern Gulf of Mexico from Destin, Fla., westward to Morgan City, La. The storm was nearing South Florida with maximum sustained winds of about 40 mph as of 8 a.m.

Bonnie is projected to hit land early Sunday morning in Louisiana, according to the National Hurricane Center.

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