Coverage: Gulf Coast Oil Spill
NAPLES — Hundreds of people filed in a line as rumors spread that claims should be filed for quick payment from the BP office in East Naples. The crowd grew to such an extent on Monday that the line was spiraling around Patriot Square Plaza.
Many of the people, particularly workers from Collier County hotels and restaurants, said it was word of mouth that brought them there.
“Everybody is here now because of the rumor,” said Naples businesswoman Andriette Campbell, who recently moved to Tampa.
“Someone was paid $2,800 and now everybody thinks they have a chance,” Campbell said.
That one example led to a predominating word on the street that individual claims should be filed because the oil giant is paying them, reported several people as they stood in the morning sun and remained leaning against the concrete wall of the plaza’s businesses well into the mid-afternoon heat.
Claims in areas where oil didn’t reach the sand had been put on hold since late August, but are being considered once again, according to statements by claim handlers last week.
Workers at the Naples Grande Resort and Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort were among those who said they were told by their bosses to file claims. Managers told them what documents they should bring. Employees then helped each other gather the information before heading to the claims office, they said.
The BP claims office was renamed the Gulf Coast Claims Facility on Aug. 23. That’s when attorney Ken Feinberg, the Gulf oil spill pay czar, took over individual and business claims of financial loss caused by the oil that spilled following the April Deepwater Horizon explosion. Although the oil didn’t reach Southwest Florida beaches, many have argued it did reach many would-be visitors’ minds, causing a steep decline in business.
The Naples office went from averaging about 20 people filing claims each day to 300 to 400 people each day during the past week, said office manager Van Snider.
Campell said she closed her downtown Naples business, Salon A on Fifth, on June 30 due to the oil spill. She was one of the few people waiting in line who said she had already filed a claim previously.
Most of the people reported that Monday was their first attempt to begin the process.
Campbell just needed to sign a form to release her claim from BP to Gulf Coast, she said. Nonetheless, she was in line for at least an hour and a half in the sweltering sun. Others said they waited more than four hours before finally making it within arm’s length of the claims office door.
“I think this is ludicrous. People are pushing. It’s getting hot. That little boy just peed on that… There’s no where to go,” Campbell said.
A man attempted to sell bottled water to people in line before being prohibited by a Collier County sheriff’s deputy.
Soon after, a claims adjuster began passing out cold bottled water to the people in line.
Abner Pierre, of Immokalee, grabbed a bottle and sighed with some relief as sweat dripped from his brow and nose.
“I’m just coming here to see what’s going on. I’m coming here for help,” said Pierre, a server at Seminole Casino.
He’s working, but not getting as many hours or as much pay as he once did, he said.
Pierre also said he had nothing to lose by trying. “Maybe yes, maybe no,” he said in a thick Creole accent.
Claims adjusters were initially caught by surprise with the phenomenon that has continued to grow since last week, said Snider.
“We have no idea why… I guess word of mouth spread really quickly,” Snider said gazing at the crowd.
Snider and another claims adjuster came out with their clipboards, taking names.
“We’re just trying to get everybody out of the heat,” he said as he checked identifications, wrote down phone numbers and promised to get back to people by the end of the day.
Someone would call each person to set up an appointment, but that might be scheduled a while into the future as the office is booked for at least the next week, Snider said.
Avoiding a wait in line at the office, located at 4121 U.S. 41 East, near Lakewood Boulevard, may be nearly impossible for now, he said. However, Snyder made this recommendation while widening his eyes: “Go online if you can… if at all possible.”
The GCCF website is GulfCoastClaimsFacility.com