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President Barack Obama declared Sunday that Americans are facing “a massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster” after meeting with Coast Guard officials in Louisiana for an update on the Gulf region oil spill.

The president met with Adm. Thad Allen, who is overseeing the federal response to the spill, and other officials at the Venice Coast Guard Center for a firsthand view of the incident, caused last week by an explosion on a BP exploratory rig. Others in the meeting included Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Homeland Security adviser John Brennan.

Obama said it “could take many days to stop” the leaks coming from the BP pipelines because of the “unique and unprecedented” nature of the situation. The leaks, which are spreading at a rate of up to 5,000 barrels a day, are coming from pipelines that lie more than 5,000 feet below the water’s surface.

“That’s why we’re also using every resource available to stop the oil from coming ashore and mitigating the damage it could cause. And much of the discussion here at the center was focused on if we, and when we have to deal with these mitigation efforts,” Obama said. As of Sunday afternoon, the spill was about nine miles off the coast of southeastern Louisiana.

The president said the weather “has not been as cooperative as we’d like” in helping to stop the spread of the spill. And while federal officials are committed to helping to clean up damage from the incident, he emphasized that BP is responsible for the leak and “will be paying the bill.”

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs later dismissed comparisons of the administration’s response to the spill to the Bush administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.

Analogies between the two disasters are “tougher to make” because of the advance notice that came with Katrina and the number of lives lost, Gibbs told reporters on Air Force One.

Still, Gibbs added: “I’m happy to compare the response.”

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