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BP agrees to speed up payments to workers, others affected by oil spill

Sheila Clark -- whose husband, Donald, was killed in the oil rig explosion -- listens as Sen. Charles E. Schumer speaks at a news conference.
Sheila Clark -- whose husband, Donald, was killed in the oil rig explosion -- listens as Sen. Charles E. Schumer speaks at a news conference. (Alex Wong/getty Images)

Data show that Louisiana residents also are attempting to collect money for a range of other problems -- including damage to trucks, boats, homes and animals, as well as income loss from rental properties or real estate sales.

A $2,500 payment was made to a Louisiana resident who claimed a respiratory ailment. But no money has been paid to people claiming a host of other personal injuries, including headaches (42 claims), nausea (28 claims), eye irritation (16 claims), skin irritation (13 claims) and allergies (one claim). Five claims have been made for "anxiety/stress."

Along the gulf shore, local officials worry that individual payments will not arrive quickly enough to prevent permanent economic damage. Seafood processing plants and icehouses are considering mothballing their facilities, then laying off their most experienced employees. Many say that, given the costs of shuttering and then reopening a plant -- especially without the help of a workforce that may have moved on to other jobs -- any temporary closings may become permanent.

"Closing them could be catastrophic," said Mike Ferdinand of the Terrebonne Economic Development Authority.

Local authorities are trying to persuade BP to pay to keep the electricity on and employees on the payroll, even if there is little seafood to process.

"How long can we hang on? I don't know," said the manager of a major shrimp processing plant in Louisiana, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid alienating BP.

His plant employs 175 people. Some employees have taken payments from BP, the manager said, while others remain on his payroll even though there is no work to be done.

"Right now, I'm just trying to hang on to my key people and see what happens," he said.

Authement, who co-owns a shrimp processing plant in Dulac, said that BP asked for more paperwork before paying his company's claim for lost income, even though production has declined 90 percent.

"I'm losing money every day right now," he said.

In Florida, the economic losses have taken longer to hit home than in Louisiana, according to attorney Tim Howard, who is pressing a class-action lawsuit against BP on behalf of business owners in Florida. But even there, he said, delays could quickly set economic dominoes in motion.

"If claims get resolved in 30 days, that will be fine. If they don't, that's a problem, because people still have to pay their mortgages," Howard said.

Last Saturday, Darryl Willis, a BP vice president, said in a news conference call that the company had committed nearly $85 million through June to cover about 34,000 worker and small-business claims. He said that for small claims, the company has reduced the wait for a check from 45 days to as little as 48 hours.

He said that no claim has been denied and that "we have not had any big disconnects between what people feel they are due" and what they received. If that occurs, he said, "we will address it on the spot."

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