Wednesday September 7th, 2005

Gulf Coast region's largest refinery remains shut down; total U. S. capacity trimmed by ten percent...Greater Houston Partnership helps hurricane-affected companies temporarily conduct business from Houston...Houston Independent School District to host job fair for displaced educators...

The largest oil refinery shut down by Hurricane Katrina remains crippled. Owner Chevron says it is unclear when refining will resume at the Mississippi site. The Pascagoula, Mississippi refinery normally processes 325,000 barrels of crude oil a day. Limited power has been restored to the refinery, allowing it to provide gasoline and diesel products to local emergency workers and 25 gas stations that are open around Pascagoula. Eight major refineries that produce gasoline, diesel and jet fuel and heating oil were knocked out of commission. Output at two others was curbed by last week's killer hurricane and the flooding. The damage trimmed U. S. refining capacity by more than ten percent, contributing to the surge in gasoline prices and spot shortages around the country.

Apache Corporation says 76 percent of the natural gas production and 60 percent of the oil production shut-in because of Hurricane Katrina is back up and running at pre-storm levels. The Houston-based company reported on September 2nd that it lost eight production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.


The Greater Houston Partnership is helping companies affected by Hurricane Katrina to temporarily conduct their business from Houston. Businesses will likely be dislocated for weeks, if not months. Partnership CEO and President Jeff Mosely says there's a need to centralize information.

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Mosely says Partnership members are offering services that can help hurricane-affected companies re-establish business in Houston.

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Today's Staffing on Richmond is offering free resume writing and job placement assistance and software training. Mosely says larger corporations generally have disaster recovery plans.

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Mosely says the Partnership is planning a job fair so that businesses trying to re-establish here in Houston can be re-staffed with qualified evacuees.

Texas is helping businesses that must relocate from Louisiana and other states due to Hurricane Katrina. Secretary of State Roger Williams says such corporations, limited partnerships and limited liability companies can temporarily do business in Texas without a Certificate of Authority. Current Texas law says businesses can conduct an isolated transaction completed within a period of 30 days. Williams has now told agency staffers not to enforce that law, for any hurricane-relocated company, for 60 days. Williams also says Texas will expedite the process for any company filing for a Certificate of Authority.


The Houston Independent School District is hosting a job fair for educators displaced by Hurricane Katrina. HISD Department of Human Resources officials are interviewing teachers, counselors, speech pathologists, social workers and teaching assistants on Thursday afternoon at the HISD administrative headquarters in the Weslayan Building B (annex) auditorium. Professionals should bring resumes, teaching certificates, transcripts, references and other relevant information.

A company that rebuilds deep sea oil drilling equipment says it plans to hire 100 workers left without jobs by Hurricane Katrina. Keppel Am-Fels spokesman Gilbert Elizondo said victims of the storm will be given preference in hiring. He says the offshore shipyard can use pipe fitters, plate fitters, welders, carpenters and machinists. Elizondo says the company wouldn't need the workers otherwise, but decided to add to the workforce as a way to help the victims.

An e-mail incorrectly offering a thousand jobs to clean up buildings in hurricane-ravaged areas has created havoc for a Houston remediation company--and perhaps false hopes for those needing work. Some jobs were available with LVI Environmental Services, but not a thousand of them. The available jobs were quickly filled before the spread of the unauthorized e-mail. Hundreds of people--most from Houston and some hurricane survivors--responded to the e-mail. Many showed up at the company's office to apply. Although most of the positions have been filled, the company is still taking applications. About a thousand of its workers are in Louisiana and Mississippi cleaning up casinos, hotels, schools and public buildings.


Houston-area officials today announced the creation of the Houston Katrina Relief Fund to help defray costs of social services for the hurricane's refugees. Houston Mayor Bill White and Harris County Judge Robert Eckels also said all the money will stay in the city. Eckels says there are many services the refugees will need that won't be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He says the fund will help with those costs. White says donations could go to governmental and private organizations helping the refugees--but he couldn't give an example of what entities might be eligible.

People are moving out of large shelters less than a week after Houston launched its Hurricane Katrina relief effort. About 8,100 people are now living in the four largest shelters in the city. That's based upon a head-count conducted early this morning. Officials estimated that as many as 25,000 people were in the shelters in recent days. Efforts are continuing to relocate people into permanent apartments, homes or mobile homes. Coast Guard Lieutenant Joe Leonard says he hopes to be able to close the Astrodome and two other shelters in Reliant Park within 11 days.


The Associated Press has learned that the federal government plans to dole out debit cards worth $2,000 each to Hurricane Katrina survivors. The unprecedented cash card program initially will benefit stranded people who have been moved to rescue centers such as the Astrodome. Sources tell AP the program was outlined by Homeland Security Department officials in a conference call with state leaders this morning. Other sources tell AP the cards would be used to buy food, transportation, gas and other things the displaced people need.


Thousands of offers of shelter are collected on the Houston Association of Realtors Web site. The effort is a partnership between HAR and the Houston Area Urban League, the Houston Bar Association and the Houston Young Lawyers Association. Site links include "Apply for Shelter," "Donate Shelter," "Find Shelter," "Short Term Lease" and "Volunteer Opportunities."


Many countries say they want to help, but that their Hurricane Katrina offers have gone unanswered. A top Indian official says his country has a plane "parked at the airport'' loaded with medicine and food, but the U. S. hasn't given a destination. Taiwan says it's waiting for the U. S. to decide where the island nation's $2 million donation should be sent. South Korea has promised $30 million and had said it would sent 40 rescue workers and 100 tons of blankets, diapers, wheelchairs and the like by this weekend. But now a foreign ministry official says the delivery will be delayed until next week because "preparations are not going well.'' A State Department spokesman says "any offers of support that could potentially benefit'' the U. S. have been accepted.

A Mexican Army aid convoy is making its way to the U. S. with water treatment plants, mobile kitchens and supplies to feed the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Large Mexican flags are taped to many of the 35 green-painted army trucks and tractor trailers. This apparently will be the first Mexican military unit to operate on U. S. soil since 1846. The trucks, carrying 195 unarmed soldiers, officers and specialists, are expected to arrive in Laredo early tomorrow. From there they are to proceed to Houston, where they'll apparently be used to produce water and thousands of hot meals.


Senators from both parties suspect motorists are being gouged at the gas pump. They aired their concerns as the government reported the average price of regular gas soared by nearly 46 cents a gallon in the week since Hurricane Katrina. The Energy Information Administration says that brought the price to $3.07, almost $1.22 higher than a year ago. EIA administrator Guy Caruso says gas prices should back off a little bit from record levels. But he told a Senate panel they'll remain relatively high. He expects gas will average $2.60 a gallon at the pump in the third quarter of the year and $2.40 a gallon the the fourth quarter. Oregon Senator Gordon Smith says consumers "are being victimized more than any free market would warrant.'' He and other senators charge that federal regulators aren't aggressively pursing price gouging and other market manipulation by energy companies. Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici says Congress needs to give agencies the tools to investigate price gouging complaints. The chief economist for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission says his agency hasn't seen any evidence of price manipulation.


With officials prioritizing federal funds for Hurricane Katrina recovery, other federally funded projects may see delays. The Army Corps of Engineers says that it is possible that millions of dollars in federal money will be diverted in the next few years to the hurricane rebuilding effort. One project that might be delayed is the $435 million trinity uptown project in Fort Worth. It had been set on an expedited schedule for completion in 15 years. The project would re-channel the Trinity River to improve flood control. Although some projects may be delayed, Corps officials say that the tragedy in New Orleans could bring more attention to flood-control projects nationwide.


Former Enron executives Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling and Rick Causey are asking that their federal criminal cases be dismissed because prosecutors are threatening witnesses to keep them from helping the three defend themselves. The Houston Chronicle says the request was made of U. S. District Judge Sim Lake last week. The motion refers to an e-mail from an Enron Task Force member telling a lawyer for a cooperating government witness to stop talking to Skilling's lawyer or "get rid" of him. Lawyers for Lay, Skilling and Causey says that they asked more than 100 witness to talk to them and only four agreed.


The Mervyns department store chain plans to close nearly one-quarter of its stores nationwide and lay off 4,800 employees. The new owners will attempt to improve the retailer's profitability. Mervyns was sold last year by Target to a private investment consortium. Hayward, California-based Mervyns today announced plans to close 62 stores in eight states. Some Mervyns stores in Texas, Louisiana and Colorado, and all stores in Michigan and Oklahoma, will close by February. The company also will close one store in each of California, Oregon and Utah, and two distribution centers in Texas and Utah. The stores were money-losers and comprised just 17 percent of total sales. About 1,200 full-time employees and 3,600 part-time workers will be laid off.


The nation's largest rent-to-own company Rent-A-Center plans to close up to 162 stores by the end of next year. The Plano-based company says 114 stores would be closed and merged with existing Rent-A-Center operations, and another 48 stores would be sold, merged with a potential acquisition or closed. The company operates more than 30 stores in the Houston area.


The KBR unit of Halliburton is partnering with France's Technip and Japan's JGC Corporation in a contract worth more than $2 billion to build Yemen's first liquified natural gas export plant. The Yemen LNG Company project includes two units, with the first one starting operations at the end of 2008.


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