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Latest developments on the Gulf oil disaster

By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) -- Here are the latest developments on the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which unfolded after the oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20:

NEW

President Barack Obama will host the families of the 11 workers killed in the BP oil rig explosion at the White House Thursday.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis heads to New Orelans Thursday to meet with fishermen affected by the gushing oil.

Capitol Hill holds three more hearings Thursday on the oil disaster in the Gulf.

PREVIOUSLY REPORTED

CLEANUP

Federal authorities gave BP until Friday to come up with a contingency plan for collecting gushing oil. In a letter written Tuesday to Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles, the government instructed the British energy giant to submit redundancy plans in the event of operation failures or severe weather that could disrupt the continuous recovery of oil.

BP said Wednesday that it has collected about 57,500 barrels (2.4 million gallons) of oil since it placed a containment cap on its ruptured well.

A second ship, the Massachusetts, started transferring crude oil Wednesday from the Discover Enterprise, which has been collecting the oil pumped up from the well cap, BP said.

In addition to the letter to Suttles, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen wrote to BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward asking for the development of better redundancies in the company's short- and long-term containment plans.

The letter to Hayward also highlights concerns over BP's ability to effectively process damage claims associated with the Gulf disaster.

Government scientists estimate that the spill's flow rate after last week's cut of the well's riser pipe increased by 4 to 5 percent. That's well below an increase of as much as 20 percent that administration officials had indicated could happen.

BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles denied Wednesday that BP has ordered cleanup workers not to talk to reporters.

States are tracking the disaster's health impact, including respiratory and skin irritation problems in Louisiana and Alabama, health officials said.

Federal agencies responsible for monitoring the toll to wildlife reported Wednesday that 442 oiled birds have been collected alive; 633 were dead. The report said 50 sea turtles have been collected alive; 272 were dead.

ECONOMIC ASSISTANCE

BP provided more insight into its claims process Tuesday, saying that as of Monday, it has paid nearly $49 million to individuals and businesses affected by the spill. The company also said it expects to issue a second round of payments this month to cover anticipated lost income or profits, bringing the total it has paid to about $84 million.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said Tuesday that he was frustrated with BP's reimbursement process, announcing that he will send National Guard troops and emergency management workers into affected communities to help residents with the preparation of claims forms.

POLITICS

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar defended the Obama administration's six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling, which has come under fire from critics who argue that the drilling is vital for reducing the dependence on foreign oil.

The oil disaster took center stage on Capitol Hill on Wednesday as House and Senate panels tackled issues ranging from safety to cleanup to liability.

President Barack Obama will make another visit to the Gulf Coast next week to review efforts to contain and clean up the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

BP's Hayward has been asked to appear at a hearing June 17 before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

It's really simple, New Orleans, Louisiana, Mayor Mitch Landrieu told CNN's "American Morning" on Wednesday: "You have to cap the well, capture the oil and clean the coast. These are the three immediate missions we have to get on right away."

Norway has suspended issuing deepwater drilling licenses until it has more information on the BP oil disaster, according to the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy.

Advocacy groups are planning a nationwide vigil for later this month.

Top congressional Democrats renewed their push Wednesday for legislation that would remove all oil spill liability caps -- a move some Republicans warn will lead to stronger monopolies in the energy sector while increasing U.S. dependence on foreign oil sources. "If you or I ... got into an accident that we caused, (we'd be) responsible for all the damages," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. "There would be "no caps in that case, and there should be no caps in this case."