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PORT FOURCHON, La., May 28 (UPI) -- President Obama picked up tarballs on a beach in Louisiana during a visit Friday to assess BP's efforts to plug the massive Gulf of Mexico oil leak.

Obama, along with Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen and the Lafourche parish president, Charlotte Randolph, strolled the white sand of Fourchon Beach. Obama knelt to pick up the nickel- to quarter-sized tarballs on the beach where yellow tape cordoned off the water and 7 miles of boom resembled a string of pompoms.

Looking to the water, Obama said conditions were ideal for keeping oil away from the shores.

"It's calm, which means that a lot of boats are out there right now and they're in a position where they can help prevent (the oil) from getting close to shore," he said.

The president praised Lafourche's work in responding to a spill now estimated to be at least twice the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska. "This parish has been as effective as any in coordinating and working to make sure they respond quickly."

Obama's administration has received criticism for its response to the spill. A USA Today/Gallup poll indicated 53 percent of Americans believed the government has done a poor job responding to the emergency.

BP reported some progress as it continued to try to cap the spill using a so-called "top kill" method. The full top kill procedure could take up to two more days, BP said. The method involves pumping heavy fluid, known as drilling mud, into the head of the leaking well on the sea floor. Officials said they hoped the drilling mud would stop the flow so cement could be pumped in to seal the well.

Oil has been spilling into the gulf since April 20 when the drilling platform Deepwater Horizon exploded. It sank two days later. Eleven rig workers died.

U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia Minuit said oil is spewing at a rate of between 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day, CNN reported. The spill rate means 260,000 to 540,000 barrels had leaked as of 10 days ago -- more than the 250,000 barrels spilled when the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska's Prince William Sound.

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Local residents line the road as U.S. President Barack Obama's motorcade drives to the Coast Guard station on May 28, 2010 in Grand Isle, Louisiana. The oil spill resulting from the Deepwater Horizon disaster now officially ranks as the worst in U.S. history. UPI/Win McNamee/Pool
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