(Mike Stocker, Sun Sentinel)

BP is leaking $70 million to four Southern coastal states to promote tourism while oil floats toward their shores from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  Florida planned to use its $25 million share to begin an advertising blitz this weekend. Florida officials claim it will be the biggest promotion since the 9/11 terrorist attacks made everybody want to stay home.

Applying lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana plans to use its $15 million share to tell would-be visitors that, while the coast may be threatened with tar balls and grease, the rest of the state is doing just fine.  Also getting $15 million each are Mississippi and Alabama.  Alabama began preparing new ads to promote its beaches nearly two weeks ago, before BP offered help. But beach merchants worry that the oil spill will kill their business regardless.  “Every day that it goes by, it scares us worse,” Lynn Wickman, who owns the Treasure Trove gift shop on Dauphin Island, told the Montgomery Advertiser.

Will Seccombe, chief marketing officer of Visit Florida, fought gloom with understatement: “The timing of the spill has seriously challenged the travel-planning cycle.”

South Carolina tourism officials are banking that the spill won’t really squirt through the current and hit them, too.  Myrtle Beach already has been running extra ads in Atlanta promoting its beaches.  Hilton Head Island officials are stressing to callers that the destination is closer to Atlanta than Gulf Coast beaches and maybe only an hour farther for people from places such as Nashville, Tennessee.  Not that South Carolina wants anything bad to happen to the beaches to the south.   “We feel for our tourism partners along the Gulf Coast. No destination wants to see this happen,” Charlie Clark, spokesman for Hilton Head’s Chamber of Commerce told The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Macon.com reports that hair stylists in Middle Georgia are donating hair off their floors to help soak up the spreading oil slick.  Donors are part of a project organized by Matter of Trust, a San Francisco charity  that collects hair, nylon and mesh from businesses nationwide and weaves the clippings into hair booms — nylon tubes stuffed with hair — and mats used to absorb oil.

Check out our News and Opinion Feeds for a lot more Southern happenings.

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Ron Taylor

Ron Taylor

Ron Taylor was born and raised in Georgia and worked more than 40 years at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a reporter and editor and as an online producer for ajc.com and AccessAtlanta. He served for a time as the newspaper's regional editor, overseeing coverage of the South. He is co-author, with Dr. Leonard Ray Teel, of Into the Newsroom:  An Introduction to Journalism and has conducted workshops in the Middle East on feature writing.