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Gulf oil spill: Jimmy Buffett tells Florida beachgoers to stay upbeat

June 5, 2010 |  4:00 pm

Musician Jimmy Buffett, wearing his Margaritaville-brand flip-flops, stood Saturday on a pier at tar-ball blotched Pensacola Beach and led a pro-beach rally, urging Floridians to "not get a 'sky is falling' attitude" over the looming oil slick.

Buffett said he has survived hurricanes, getting shot at in Jamaica and a plane crash, and he insisted he's ready to ride out the oil-spill disaster that in the last two days has hit the white sand beaches of the Florida Panhandle.

"This is an environmental disaster nobody asked for, but Floridians are a tough people," Buffet said to the crowd of 1,000 beachgoers.

Tar balls swept along by strong winds hit more of the Panhandle coast Saturday, including Perdido Key at the far west end of the state and Grayton Beach, about 60 miles east of Pensacola Beach. A dozen tar mats — slabs of thickened crude as long as 30 feet  — were found near Navarre Beach.

As spill-response workers collected oil blobs in the background, Buffett was joined by Gov. Charlie Crist. Although the expanding slick is largely offshore, it continues to drift east and threatens to devastate the state's crucial tourism industry.

For Crist, a sharp decline in visitors could drive up coastal unemployment and drive down state tax revenues. And for Buffett, crude oil washing ashore could spoil summer revenues as he opens his $50-million Margaritaville Beach Hotel in Pensacola Beach.

"People ought to come out here — it's beautiful," said Crist, putting up with an already hot and humid morning and sweating through his shirt. "Jimmy's opening a hotel here next week."

"Just batten down the hatches," Buffett said.

--Kevin Spear, Orlando Sentinel, reporting from Pensacola Beach, Fla.

Photo: Musician Jimmy Buffett, left, with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. Credit: Associated Press