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Underwater robots steadily assembled heavy metal pieces Monday as BP prepared to install a tighter cap over its busted well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, offering hopeful signs that it could soon bring the gusher under control.

The oil giant said it was ahead of its schedule to get the new, better cap in place. Once the cap is in place and working properly, officials hoped it would capture all of the oil spewing out of the well and that it can all be funneled to containment ships at the surface.

"The hope is that we can slowly turn off the valves, close the capping completely and then test pressure to see how the well is performing," Thad Allen, the government's point man on the disaster, said on CBS's "The Early Show."

While the operation is under way, the previous cap had to be removed — meaning all of the oil is escaping unfettered until the new cap can be installed. Still, the chance to capture all the oil was a welcome bit of news 83 days into the environmental and economic disaster that has fouled the Gulf and its fragile coastline.

After more than two months of failed efforts, there remains a healthy dose of skepticism among those who live and work along the coast.

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