ABC News’ Karen Travers and Matt Gutman report:
On her first trip to the Gulf Coast since the BP oil spill, First Lady Michelle Obama encouraged Americans to consider vacationing on the region’s beaches that have not been directly impacted by oil.
“It is vacation time. Folks are looking for things to do with their kids, and this would be a great opportunity to do a few things -- help this community, send a different message about the extent of the spill, and also think long term about how the rest of the country can help this economy and the folks down here,” Mrs. Obama said at the Panama City Welcome Center.
The Obama family will be taking a mini-vacation of their own this weekend, but instead of going to the Gulf Coast they are traveling to Maine’s Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park.
Mrs. Obama said the word needs to get out to Americans that there are “beautiful beaches” along the Gulf Coast and it’s a great time for families to come down with their kids.
“There are still thousands of miles of beaches that have not been touched by the spill,” the first lady said. “And there are communities that thrive on tourism and on the economic power of beaches that have not been damaged.”
Gayle Oberst, mayor of Panama City Beach, said that the oil spill is “destroying a way of life” as tourists change their vacation plans.
“The beach has always been the most beautiful beach,” Oberst told ABC News, “And if we don’t have that beach to sell here, we are going to have to find other things to sell to them.”
Echoing other officials from the Obama White House, including the president, Mrs. Obama called the spill “the worst environmental disaster that our nation has seen.”
Mrs. Obama said that her husband’s administration is “doing our best” to rectify the situation in the region and take this opportunity to “really build and preserve and make the Gulf the prize of this country that it has been and should continue to be.”
-Karen Travers and Matt Gutman