GRAND ISLE, La. - A new spill confronted BP on Wednesday - of complaints from Gulf Coast property and business owners and fishermen of delays in processing their damage claims or skimpy payments - even as the company made headway in capturing an ever-larger share of the crude gushing from the bottom of the sea.
The Obama administration's point man for the disaster, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, confronted BP over the complaints.
"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," he said in a letter to the company.
The new controversy played out as BP stock plunged to its lowest level in 14 years amid fears that the company might be forced to suspend dividends and find itself overwhelmed by cleanup costs and damage claims.
Shrimpers, oystermen, seafood businesses, out-of-work drilling crews, and the tourism industry all are lining up to get compensated for what could be billions of dollars washed away by the disaster.
Many locals see themselves entangled in 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 her restaurant in Alabama. "If BP doesn't pay us within two months, we'll be out of business. We've got two kids."
An Alabama property owner who has lost rental income angrily confronted a BP executive at a town meeting.
The owner of a Mississippi seafood restaurant said she was desperately waiting for a check to come through because fewer customers come by for her shrimp po-boys and oyster sandwiches.
Not everyone had complaints, and a BP spokesman said the company in fact had cut the claims processing time.
Bart Harrison of Clay, Ala., filed a claim Wednesday morning for lost rental income on his coastal property and expected to have a check for $1,010 within 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," Harrison said.
Some locals, however, fear a replay of what they say happened after Hurricane Katrina, when many had to wait years for compensation.
BP spokesman Mark Proegler said the company had cut the time to process claims and issue a check from 45 days to as little as 48 hours, provided the necessary documentation was supplied.
BP officials did acknowledge that while no claims had been denied so far, thousands had not been paid by late last week because the company required more documentation.
BP said it had paid 18,000 claims so far and had hired 600 adjusters and others.
The oil giant said it expected to spend $84 million just through June to compensate people for lost wages or profits. BP could face eventual liabilities perhaps in the tens of billions, some analysts said.
BP stock dropped $5.48, or 16 percent, to close at $29.20 on the New York Stock Exchange - its worst day since the April 20 rig explosion that set off the spill. In the seven weeks since, the company has lost half its market value.
At the bottom of the sea, the containment cap on the ruptured well was capturing 630,000 gallons a day and pumping it to a ship at the surface, and the amount could nearly double by next week to 1.17 million gallons, Allen said.
A second vessel expected within days would greatly boost capacity.
Crews toiled under oppressive conditions Wednesday as the heat index soared to 110 degrees and toxic vapors emanated from the depths. Fireboats poured water on the surface to ease the fumes.