Friday September 30th, 2005

Damage estimates estimated for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita…French ambassador thanks Houston after storm…Gasoline prices heading back up in Texas in wake of Hurricane Rita… The government says Hurricane Katrina caused $100 billion in uninsured losses last month. The Commerce Department says personal spending fell one percent, the biggest tumble since the terror attacks four years […]

Damage estimates estimated for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita…French ambassador thanks Houston after storm…Gasoline prices heading back up in Texas in wake of Hurricane Rita…

The government says Hurricane Katrina caused $100 billion in uninsured losses last month. The Commerce Department says personal spending fell one percent, the biggest tumble since the terror attacks four years ago. Reflecting devastation along the Gulf Coast, personal incomes fell one-tenth of one percent in August. Analysts believe the combined damage toll from Katrina and Rita is likely to dampen the economy for several months. In addition, there’s further concern about the broader impact on the economy from rising energy prices. Earlier this week, the conference board reported a sharp decline in consumer confidence for September.

Harris County has sustained an estimated $111 million in damage from Hurricane Rita including more than $75 million in food thrown out by supermarkets and convenience stores. Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt says the county did not suffer much wind damage because Rita made landfall at Beaumont, about 80 miles to the east. He says some large retail stores had backup generators and didn’t loose food supplies, but most stores didn’t have backup power. The Harris County Appraisal District used computer modeling and a survey of some business owners to estimate damages.

French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte is expressing his gratitude to Houston authorities for their help in searching for French nationals during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Ambassador Jean-David Lavitte audio 1

The French government and private French companies have been aiding the relief effort.

Ambassador Jean-David Lavitte audio 2

Levitte says French companies have been stepping forward with aid and cash.

Ambassador Jean-David Lavitte audio 3

Ambassador Levitte says the whole world was watching the hurricane drama unfold, and people in France wanted to help.

Ambassador Jean-David Lavitte audio 4

The ambassador says other French companies offered helicopters, boats and cash for search, rescue and recovery efforts.

Gasoline prices are on the upswing in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Rita. The AAA Texas gas price survey released today shows the average price of self-serve regular gas at the pump increased just over ten cents to more than $2.77 a gallon. That’s nearly a dollar higher than last year’s record high average of $1.82. Beaumont is the only city to show a decrease in the pump price, which the auto club attributes to lack of demand in the devastated area. It shows the lowest average pump price of $2.60. Fort Worth shows the highest price average of $2.83 per gallon–up almost 15 cents from the week before. AAA Texas spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says the upward price trend could change once storm-idled refineries resume operations. The national average price for regular self-serve gasoline is about $2.81 per gallon. That’s up almost seven cents from last week. Houston’s average is at $2.79 a gallon, up six cents from last week.

The BP Texas City refinery shut down in advance of Hurricane Rita, like other refineries, but it will use the shutdown to move forward with maintenance, inspections and engineering work. The down time will be used for Hurricane Rita-related repairs, but some work is related to BP’s recent settlement with federal regulators over a fatal blast at the plant last March. The company made a $21 million settlement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Nearly 2,000 workers are on site to begin the work.

Continental Airlines has raised fares and is considering cutting back some flights in October, according to Reuters. The Houston-based airline increased fares within the United States and between the U. S. and Canada by $10 each way to offset record jet fuel prices.

American Airlines says it’s canceling 15 daily roundtrip flights next month because of the soaring cost of jet fuel. The flights are from the air carrier’s two largest hubs, Chicago O’Hare and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airports, to 11 markets including Atlanta, Denver, Washington, Houston and Minneapolis. The cancellations start October 5th and end the 29th. The company says it’ll monitor jet fuel prices, which have shot up 91 percent since September of last year, and consider restarting service after October.

CenterPoint Energy says it has restored power to all customers affected by Hurricane Rita except for a few isolated cases. At the height of the storm, about 700,000 customers were without power. Now CenterPoint linemen and support personnel will assist Entergy in its restoration efforts. Entergy still has 217,457 customers without electricity, and there are 68,322 customers without power from their rural electric cooperatives. TXU still has 6,900 customers without power.

Utility crews that worked to restore electricity to Arkansas customers after last weekend’s storms will get a few days’ rest before heading for Texas. Entergy Arkansas says 48 of its linemen and supervisors will travel to Southeast Texas to help with power restoration there. Saturday night and Sunday morning, about 60,000 Entergy customers in Arkansas lost power when the storms spawned remnants of Hurricane Rita swept across the state. Rita knocked out power to about 766,000 customers in the four-state Entergy system–Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and East Texas. Entergy said 129 linemen and supporting personnel were already in Louisiana, and another 115 in Texas. The utility says enough crews will remain in Arkansas to handle emergencies, but routine work might be delayed a bit by the storm-restoration work.

Power should be fully restored at seven closed oil refineries in the Port Arthur and Lake Charles area within ten days, according to the Energy Information Administration. Four refineries still remained closed in the New Orleans area from Hurricane Katrina.

Ports along the Gulf Coast are slowly struggling back to life. Restrictions preventing larger vessels from entering the Houston Ship Channel have been lifted, allowing oil tankers and other larger ships into the Port of Houston. The Coast Guard had put in restrictions after Hurricane Rita, fearing silting or other obstacles. The state port in Gulfport, Mississippi is open, but there are few signs of commerce. Only one pier is operating, and crews were busy today clearing debris along a second. More than two million tons of fruit, wood, minerals and other cargo move through Gulfport every year. Pascagoula, which moves about 31 million tons of cargo a year and is the state’s busiest port, is also open for limited daytime traffic. A port spokesman in Louisiana says the Port of New Orleans is operating at about 20 percent of its normal capacity.

The Port of Houston commission has authorized some $60.7 million in contracts related to the Port of Houston Authority’s Bayport cruise ship terminal. That includes contracts for the construction of a wharf and the first phase of the cruise terminal complex building, as well as dredging for the cruise terminal, which is being built in tandem with the Bayport container terminal.

The impact of Toyota on the Alamo City keeps growing. The world’s number two automaker said today that three more of its parts suppliers will locate production facilities on Toyota’s San Antonio campus. The newly signed suppliers will bring an estimated 400 jobs. That pushes Toyota-related employment in the city to more than 4,000 positions. New arrivals include Kautex Textron, a fuel tank maker based in Bonn, Germany; Metokote Corporation, a Lima, Ohio company that provides corrosion-resistant coatings on metal parts; and Tokai Rika, an electronic parts producer headquartered in Japan. Toyota plans to manufacture as many as 200,000 Tundra pickups per year at its San Antonio plant.

Governor Rick Perry announced today that Mexico’s Rio Grande water debt to the United States has been paid in full. A long-standing water debt that been the center of a controversy that pitted drought-stricken South Texas farmers against Mexico. Perry said in a statement that Texas farmers, ranchers and cities “will have 100 percent of the water they are entitled to–not just for the rest of this year, but for all of 2006.” A 1944 water-sharing treaty requires Mexico to deliver a certain amount of water to the Rio Grande from its Mexican tributaries. In return, the United States releases Colorado River water to Western Mexico. But Mexico fell behind on its obligations in the 1990’s. At the height of the debt, Mexico owed the United States enough water to flood 1.5 million acres of land a foot deep.

Houston based Sterling Bancshares has finalized its purchase of Dallas-based Prestonwood Bancshares, the holding company for Oaks Bank & Trust. Oaks will take on the Sterling Bank brand later this year. Sterling has 41 locations in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.

The Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Extended Campus is opening a new center in Clear Lake for the Houston-area aviation and aerospace work force. The facility on Space Center Boulevard opens October 12th, offering undergraduate degrees in professional aeronautics and technical management and a graduate program in technical management.

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