Tuesday September 20th, 2005

Galveston stores busy as residents prepare for Hurricane Rita...Oil companies and contractors increase offshore rig and platform evacuations...Business owners with Hurricane Katrina losses invited to Resource Fair at HCC Administration Building...

The threat of Hurricane Rita is causing brisk business at some stores in the Galveston area today. Some coastal residents lined up outside a Home Depot in Texas City to buy plywood and other supplies before leaving town. A store official says generators priced at more than $500 apiece were selling out quickly, and trucks were delivering plywood every two hours.

Elected officials and emergency managers across Galveston County are recommending voluntary evacuation of the entire county, beginning immediately. They are planning to implement mandatory evacuation of nursing homes and assisted living facilities beginning tomorrow morning at 6 a.m., with a mandatory evacuation of the general population beginning tomorrow at 6 p.m. Galveston County is split into three evacuation zones. Assuming Hurricane Rita remains on its forecast track, evacuation of each zone will begin in this fashion: Zone A, 6 p.m. Wednesday--Galveston Island, Jamaica Beach, Tiki Island, Bayou Vista, Clear Lake Shores, Kemah, San Leon-Bacliff-Bayview and Bolivar Penisula. Zone B, 2 a.m. Thursday--Texas City, La Marque, Hitchcock and Dickinson. Zone C, noon Thursday--League City, Friendswood and Santa Fe. Evacuees on Interstate 45 will be directed toward a shelter hub in Huntsville. Those on Highway 6 will be routed to shelters in College Station. Those on Highway 146 will be routed to Lufkin. Pets will be allowed in the shelters.


Governor Rick Perry has recalled all emergency personnel helping with recovery from Hurricane Katrina to prepare for Rita. Among those recalled are almost 1,200 Texas National Guard members. Texas already is host to Hurricane Katrina evacuees from New Orleans, especially in the Houston area. Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee says emergency officials told him to be ready to take "an enormous amount of people from Houston'' because of Rita. Perry is issuing an executive order to waive the state and local hotel and motel tax for Texans displaced by Rita, as he did for out-of-state evacuees after Katrina. Texas is pre-positioning water, ice and other essentials in San Antonio and the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Preparations are under way to activate special needs shelters in Waco, Temple and Tyler. Plans are proceeding to open public shelters in San Antonio, Austin, Bryan-College Station, Lufkin, Nacogdoches and other areas, if needed. Thousands of Katrina refugees in Texas are being moved, via bus and air, away from coastal areas. The Governor's Office says about 4,000 will be moved to Fort Chafee, Arkansas. Tennessee is accepting about 3,000 Katrina refugees. About 250 evacuees will be moved to Nebraska. The Governor's Emergency Management Council has been put on a Level One alert, which is the highest level since the 2003 shuttle Columbia disaster in east Texas.


Oil companies and contractors increased offshore rig and platform evacuations today as Hurricane Rita makes its way toward the Gulf of Mexico. Apache and Anadarko Petroleum have evacuated personnel considered to be non-essential to drilling. Drilling contractor Transocean was in the process of evacuating about 500 employees from ten Gulf rigs. Several other oil companies earlier began removing workers off their rigs and platforms as Rita gained strength. The American Petroleum Institute says Hurricane Katrina, which came ashore August 29th, destroyed 46 platforms and rigs. Katrina also did significant damage to 18 platforms and rigs.


Business owners who suffered losses from Hurricane Katrina are invited to attend a Resource Fair Wednesday morning at the Houston Community College System Administration Building on Main Street. There are opportunities to find office space and supplies, arrange for computer and Internet access and learn about contract opportunities. Cleveland Baker is with the Small Business Administration.

Cleveland Baker audio

Richard Huebner is president of the Houston Minority Business Council.

Richard Huebner audio

Roberta Skebo is director of the Small Business Development Center at the University of Houston.

Roberta Skebo audio

Attendees can obtain technical assistance and resource information about insurance and financial matters, certification procedures, certificate training programs and scholarships at the free HCC Resource Fair.


Manufacturers are gearing up to produce cities of mobile homes for Hurricane Katrina victims. But more than one week after the federal government received their proposals to address the housing emergency--the companies are still waiting for a response. The Federal Emergency Management Agency set a September 9th deadline for mobile home makers to submit bids. FEMA spokesman Butch Kinerney says there's been a delay because the agency's parent, the Department of Homeland Security, has yet to approve a housing plan. Manufacturers are expected to get responses to the bids early this week. Bidders still waiting for a response included the largest manufacturer of mobile homes, Clayton Homes, and Fleetwood Enterprises. Clayton Homes has operations in Waco area. Thousands of Katrina refugees from Louisiana are still being housed in Texas.


Anyone convicted of fraudulent use of Hurricane Katrina disaster funds would face at least five years in prison under a bill filed in Washington. The measure was introduced by U. S. Senator John Cornyn. The Katrina Waste, Fraud and Abuse Deterrence Act is meant to prevent and prosecute fraud, theft or embezzlement. The plan would require a minimum penalty of five years in prison, and up to 20 years, for conviction of any crime involving hurricane relief funds. Thousands of Louisiana refugees remain in Texas shelters. Cornyn says he's working to make sure that Texas is properly reimbursed for its Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.


Tenet Healthcare says it expects to suffer significant losses from Hurricane Katrina. The hurricane damaged six of the Dallas-based health care company's hospitals in Louisiana and Mississippi and forced evacuation of five of them. Tenet spokesman Steven Campanini says the company believes it's insured for up to $1 billion in storm damage and another $1 billion from the later levee breaks. However, the coverage is limited to $250 million in flood losses. The Gulf Coast hospitals accounted for about six percent of Tenet's revenue in the first half of the year. Of the five hospitals in the New Orleans area and one in Mississippi, only one in Slidell, Louisiana remained open throughout Katrina and its aftermath. After the storm, 45 patients were found dead at a flooded Tenet Hospital in New Orleans. Tenet officials say ten had died before the storm, and 24 were patients in an acute-care facility run by a company called Lifecare Holdings. Tenet says it's not connected to Lifecare.


The New Orleans food service operation of Sysco has resumed operations from Harahan, Louisiana. The facility, which employs 435, had been closed since August 30th, ahead of Hurricane Katrina. Shutting down temporarily forced Sysco to serve customers that remained open from the company's Houston, Dallas and Central Alabama locations.


Gasoline prices have taken a dip for the second consecutive week but the decline may be temporary. The government says retail prices fell nearly 17 cents last week. Drivers are now paying an average of $2.78 a gallon for regular. Hurricane Katrina knocked out ten Gulf Coast refineries and the two main pipelines carrying gasoline to East Coast markets. The pipelines are back in operation, as are all but four of the refineries. Crude oil prices jumped more than $4 Monday on the New York Mercantile Exchange because of the looming threat of Hurricane Rita.


OPEC says it'll make more oil available for the last three months of the year. At a meeting today in Austria, the group said it will put an extra two million barrels a day on the market. The cartel had been considering either boosting the production ceiling or offering the extra crude. Qatar's oil minister says, "if the world needs oil, it's available.'' He says members didn't want to raise the production ceiling of 28 million barrels a day, which it's already exceeding. OPEC is trying to reassure markets that supplies will be stable for the winter. But the extra oil won't enable refineries to keep up with demand. Oil prices eased a bit today after yesterday's surge of more than $4 a barrel. That's the biggest jump ever. A top European Union energy official says the OPEC announcement is "just a small step'' and likely won't bring the price of oil down.


An employee of Houston-based Teppco Partners died Sunday in a fire caused by a propane release at the company's Todhunter, Ohio facility, near Middletown, about 30 miles north of Cincinnati. The incident was at a dehydration unit within a storage facility. Teppco owns and operates one of the largest common carrier pipelines of refined petroleum products and liquified petroleum gases in the United States.


MarkWest Energy Partners is buying a gas processing plant in Corpus Christi from a joint venture of El Paso, Kerr-McGee and Valero and Corporations in a $355 million deal. El Paso operates the Javelina plant.


The Tennessee Attorney General's Office wants an investigation to determine whether Atmos Energy is overcharging for natural gas. Attorney General Paul Summers says the company's delivery costs have declined in recent years due to lower interest rates and corporate downsizing in Tennessee. But Summers says the savings haven't been passed on to consumers. He wants the Tennessee Regulatory Authority to look into the matter. Dallas-based Atmos disputes the claims. Spokeswoman Patricia Childers says Atmos doesn't agree with the Attorney General's statement that the company is over-earning. She says Atmos rates are just and reasonable and the company is reviewing the AG's filing. Atmos provides natural gas to customers in 15 Tennessee counties.


A Dallas-based energy company that plans to build a manure-fueled power plant in Colorado is going to build another plant in southwestern Kansas. The $120 million Panda Energy ethanol plant in Haskell County, Kansas, is actually the third plant to be fueled with cattle manure that the company has announced this year. The plant would use about one billion pounds of manure each year. Besides the Kansas and Colorado plants, Panda also is planning a plant in Hereford, Texas. Company officials say all three are in areas with large feed yards, and together would produce 300 million gallons of ethanol.


Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...