Efforts to permanently stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico following the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion could be delayed by up to two weeks by Tropical Storm Bonnie.
The storm – which has already caused widespread flooding in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic - is moving north-west over the Bahamas and is expected to reach the BP site on Saturday.
Pictured: Efforts to protect San Francisco from the BP oil spill
As a result, ships involved in the operation to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf have been forced to evacuate the area, with safety the top priority according to officials.
While the British oil giant has temporarily plugged the breeched oil well, a permanent end to the crisis can only be achieved when a relief well is drilled to the site.
The operation to drill this well has now been postponed, with a “packer” - a plug used during storms – in place to stabilise the operation during the delay.
Vessels began the evacuation last night, according to incident commander Admiral Thad Allen, who added: “This includes the rig drilling the relief well that will ultimately kill the well, as well as other vessels needed for containment.”
Ships involved in the operation would be positioned to allow crews “to promptly re-start oil mitigation efforts as soon as the storm passes,” he explained.
The well has been sealed for eight days following the installation of a temporary cap.
While White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said US energy secretary Steven Chu have been “encouraged” by the results so far, test are ongoing to assess whether further oil is leaking into the Gulf.
Tourism on the south coast of the Untied States has been hard hit by the disaster, with many operators fearing guests will stay away during the vital summer season.
In an attempt to allay fears, United States president Barack Obama has announced he will take his family on holiday on Florida’s Gulf Coast for the weekend of August 14th.