PENSACOLA, Fla. | The hole in the bottom of the ocean that’s been spewing oil into the Gulf for two months has sent the lives of John Struchen and his wife, Kathy, into a tailspin.
Business at their sailing school, located on a small harbor in this shoreline city, already had plunged 50 percent as would-be customers leery of creeping black sludge take their sailing vacations elsewhere. Then, on a recent day off, Mr. Struchen got a call telling him that someone had suddenly placed containment booms beyond the harbor, blocking his boats from the sea. He has spent the ensuing days on the phone trying to figure out who put the booms there and how to get them removed, at least often enough for him to take his boats out.
He and his wife now fear for their nest egg - the couple had hoped to sell off the school for a comfortable sum to fund their retirement - but the 56-year-old owner of Lanier’s Sailing Academy has a message for those mulling a boycott of BP: Don’t.
“Don’t they realize it’s BP’s money that’s paying these claims?” he said. “It makes no sense.”
Tuesday brought even more bad news when scientists said the ruptured well could be leaking up to 2.52 million gallons of crude each day, an increase from previous estimates.
So far, the Struchens have received one flat-rate $5,000 check from BP. But Mr. Struchen said another payment is on the way to compensate them for losses they sustained last month, and though the claims process is slow, the money is a big help when it comes to paying bills on lost revenues.
Though he wasn’t one of the local business owners to meet with President Obama, Mr. Struchen’s story is typical of what the president heard during his two-day trip to the Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coasts.
Mr. Obama said part of his goal was to get a sense for what’s going right and what’s going wrong on the ground, but he also sought to urge Americans to visit and spend money.
“This is a still place that’s open for business and welcoming, so vacationers and people can have a wonderful holiday here,” the president said at the Fish Sandwich Snack Bar in Pensacola, Fla.
During his time on the shore, Mr. Obama did his part to help the tourism industry by chowing down on shrimp, crab claws, fried pickles and a monstrous plate of nachos as he ate his way across the Gulf Coast.
On Monday night, he surprised diners at Tacky Jack’s Tavern in Orange Beach, Ala., which patrons can no longer reach by boat because the water access has been closed.
“I’m glad he came,” Betty Clem, a local resident, told the Mobile Press-Register. “That’s what we need. He needs to see the area and meet the people to get a feel for what it’s like.”
Outside Tacky Jack’s, the paper reported that a man held a sign that read: “You have two ears. Use them.”
Scott Wienberg, owner of Blow Fly Inn restaurant in Gulfport, Miss., said his business has been hit hard from both ends of the spectrum: Customers are staying away, and his overhead costs are higher because supplies are more scarce.
He said he’s paying 25 percent to 30 percent more for crabs, shrimp and particularly for oysters - and that he probably will have to raise menu prices soon to cover the higher costs.