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VENICE, La. – President Barack Obama toured the staging area for response efforts to the Gulf Coast oil spill on Sunday, afterwards saying “we’re dealing with a massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster.”

Mindful of the political damage suffered by President George W. Bush for a slow response after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the same region, Obama defended his administration’s actions, saying it had been preparing for the worst from “day one” even as it had “hoped for the best.”

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The president vowed that the administration, while doing all it could to mitigate the environmental and economic disaster, would require well-owner BP America to bear all costs.

“BP is responsible for this leak. BP will be paying the bill,” Obama, with rain dripping from his face, said in Venice, a Gulf Coast community serving as a staging area for the response.

Earlier Sunday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a much wider area — from Louisiana to parts of the Florida Panhandle — would be closed to commercial and recreational fishing for at least 10 days.

Scientists were sampling the waters, and the federal government said all seafood harvested so far appeared safe.

And Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told NBC that the potential environmental outlook is “a very grave scenario.”

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