Devastating images show disastrous oil spill along Southern California coast

Scott Gleeson
USA TODAY

A broken pipeline has led to an estimated 126,000 gallons of oil leaked into the Pacific Ocean waters near Orange County, prompting Southern California officials to race to contain the damage in one of the largest oil spills in recent memory. 

The spill reached the shores of Huntington Beach late Saturday – 5 miles off the coast. Crews were able to remove more than 3,000 gallons of oil off the coastline Sunday, according to Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley.

Wildlife harmed by the oil was still emerging as dead birds and fish washed ashore. Efforts to keep the spill from affecting any more sensitive marshland was ongoing. “We’re hoping we have minimal impact, but we’re preparing for the worst,” Christian Corbo, a lieutenant at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in a public statement. 

Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Calif., sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Sunday requesting a major disaster declaration for Orange County, noting government resources will be "imperative" for a "swift recovery." 

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She wrote to the president: "Officials are already responding to protect sea life. Dead fish and birds are already being reported on beaches and shorelines. I have serious concerns about the environmental impacts of the spill and applaud the workers who are doing their best to prevent the oil from hitting sensitive wetlands." 

From workers in ocean water deploying barriers to birds' homes turned black to waterways clogged with goop, here's a look at the most devastating images from the disastrous oil spill: 

Crews deploy skimmers and floating barriers known as booms to try to stop further incursion into the Wetlands Talbert Marsh in Huntington Beach, Calif., Sunday., Oct. 3, 2021. One of the largest oil spills in recent Southern California history fouled popular beaches and killed wildlife while crews scrambled Sunday to contain the crude before it spread further into protected wetlands.
Oil is washed up on Huntington State Beach after a 126,000-gallon oil spill from an offshore oil platform on October 3, 2021 in Huntington Beach, California. The spill forced the closure of the popular Great Pacific Airshow with authorities urging people to avoid beaches in the vicinity.
Oil and sea water collect in a tide pool after a 126,000-gallon oil spill from an offshore oil platform on October 3, 2021 in Newport Beach, California. The spill forced the closure of the popular Great Pacific Airshow with authorities urging people to avoid beaches in the vicinity.
A person stands near oil washed up on Huntington State Beach after a 126,000-gallon oil spill from an offshore oil platform on October 3, 2021 in Huntington Beach, California. The spill forced the closure of the popular Great Pacific Airshow with authorities urging people to avoid beaches in the vicinity.
Workers in boats try to clean up floating oil near gulls in the Talbert Marshlands as a 3,000-barrel oil spill, about 126,000 gallons, from an offshore oil rig reaches the shore and sensitive wildlife habitats in Newport Beach, California on October 3, 2021.
Cleanup contractors deploy skimmers and floating barriers known as booms to try to stop further oil crude incursion into the Wetlands Talbert Marsh in Huntington Beach, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021.
This aerial picture taken on October 3, 2021 shows oil and an oil containment booms in the water of the Talbert Marshlands area from an offshore oil rig as it reaches the shore and sensitive wildlife habitats in Newport Beach, California.
Cleanup contractors deploy skimmers and floating barriers known as booms to try to stop further oil crude incursion into the Wetlands Talbert Marsh in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Oct. 3. One of the largest oil spills in recent Southern California history fouled popular beaches and killed wildlife while crews scrambled to contain the crude.
Cleanup workers attempt to contain oil which seeped into Talbert Marsh, home to around 90 bird species, after a 126,000-gallon oil spill from an offshore oil platform on October 3, 2021 in Huntington Beach, California.
Cleanup workers (R) attempt to contain oil which seeped into Talbert Marsh, which is home to around 90 bird species, after a 126,000-gallon oil spill from an offshore oil platform on October 3, 2021 in Huntington Beach, California. The spill forced the closure of the popular Great Pacific Airshow with authorities urging people to avoid beaches in the vicinity.
A seagull flies over oil washed up by the coast in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Sunday., Oct. 3, 2021.
Oil is seen on the beach in Huntington Beach, Calif. on October 3, 2021, after a pipeline breach connected to an oil rig off shore started leaking oil, according to an Orange County Supervisor.

Contributing: John Bacon