GRAND ISLE, La. -- The financial toll of the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico escalated Wednesday as BP's stock plummeted to a 14-year low and fishermen, businesses and property owners who have filed damage claims with the company angrily complained of delays, excessive paperwork and skimpy payments that have put them on the verge of going under.
The oil company captured an ever larger-share of the crude gushing from the bottom of the sea and began bringing in more heavy equipment to help in the effort, including a production ship and a tanker from the North Sea that will allow the system to process larger quantities of oil and better withstand tropical storms.
The containment efforts played out as investors deserted BP amid fears that the company might be forced to suspend dividends, end up in bankruptcy and find itself overwhelmed by the cleanup costs, penalties, damage claims and lawsuits generated by the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.
Shrimpers, oystermen, seafood businesses, out-of-work drilling crews and the tourism industry all are lining up to get paid back the billions of dollars washed away by the disaster, and tempers have flared as locals direct outrage at BP over what they see as a tangle of red tape.
"Every day we call the adjuster eight or 10 times. There's no answer, no answering machine," said Regina Shipp, who has filed $33,000 in claims for lost business at heea rigs to the shores of Scotland, and its deployment in the Gulf has been part of the broader plan to expand the amount of crude brought to the surface once a new and improved cap-and-collection system is installed over the leaking well.
The government has estimated 600,000 to 1.2 million gallons are leaking per day, but a scientist on a task force studying the flow said the actual rate may be between 798,000 gallons and 1.8 million.
Crews working at the site toiled under oppressive conditions as the heat index soared to 110 degrees and toxic vapors emanated from the depths. Fireboats were on hand to pour water on the surface to ease the fumes.
Allen also confronted BP over the complaints about the claims process, warning the company in a letter: "We need complete, ongoing transparency into BP's claims process including detailed information on how claims are being evaluated, how payment amounts are being calculated and how quickly claims are being processed."
The admiral this week created a team including officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help with the damage claims. It will send workers into Gulf communities to provide information about the process. He also planned to discuss the complaints with BP officials Wednesday.
Under federal law, BP is required to pay for a range of damage, including property losses and lost earnings. Residents and businesses can call a telephone line to report losses, file a claim online and seek help at one of 25 claims offices around the Gulf. Deckhands and other fishermen generally need to show a photo ID and documentation such as a pe was instructed to gather the same documents and this time go to a claims office. There, an adjuster told Walter he would be eligible for only a $5,000 payment since his tax returns showed a technical business loss when depreciation was factored in.
"I said that's not fair because if you say that, then I have to go out of business and I lose everything," Walter said. He is now working with an accounting firm to calculate his losses.
Not everyone had complaints about the claims process.
Bart Harrison of Clay, Ala., filed his first claim on Wednesday morning for lost rental income on his coastal property and expected to have a check for $1,010 within a few hours. The only documentation required was tax returns and rental histories for his units, which were both easy to provide.
"The guy I talked to was knowledgeable and respectful. It seemed like he really wanted to write a check and please me since it was my first time in," Harrison said.