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Aftermath: Gas prices, flooding on the rise

The pipeline explosion in the flood-swollen San Jacinto River near Houston will likely cause a rise in gasoline prices this weekend.

The 40-inch-wide pipeline carried about 1.2-million barrels _ 16 percent of daily U.S. consumption _ to the East Coast. An adjacent pipeline also ruptured.

Analysts said gasoline retailers might try to boost prices immediately.

"Right off the bat, prices will go up 2 to 4 cents a gallon in some places, possibly this weekend," said Peter Beutel of Cameron Hanover Inc.

It normally takes 30 to 45 days for gasoline-market prices to filter through to consumers.

Prices did fall in trading Friday on the energy market where large contracts for future delivery of gasoline are traded.

In Texas, meanwhile, many of the 11,500 who fled inundated homes lined up outside three federal disaster-relief centers Friday to apply for aid, and officials were letting the pipeline fires burn themselves out.

The key to any long-term price increase will be how long it takes to repair the pipeline.

Analysts said if the severed pipelines aren't repaired in the next two weeks, gasoline prices will rise even more on the futures markets.

That means the increase will again show at the pump.

"This is truly a profound act of God in the oil market," analyst Beutel said. "We won't freeze in the dark, but it is potentially as serious an energy crisis as we've seen in a long time."

Colonial Pipeline, a consortium of companies that owns the severed oil product pipelines, could not say when the lines would be repaired.

Downriver from the rupture, meanwhile, the line was reopened. Sixty percent of its capacity was restored.

Nationwide, the wholesale price for unleaded gasoline was up an average of 1.81 cents Friday, according to Computer Petroleum Corp. On the East Coast, the pipeline's destination, prices were up 2.19 cents.

Others, however, said competitive pressures on individual dealers will help keep any price increase slight and that the greater danger was in hoarding by marketers and consumers.

The federal government said there are ample supplies of gasoline.

Federal officials declared seven more Texas counties disaster areas Friday, making victims in those areas eligible for assistance along with those in 26 other counties. At least 17 people have been killed in the flooding.

Heavy rains hit Dallas on Friday, triggering flooding that left more than a dozen cars submerged up to their roofs in water in some suburbs.

On the swollen San Jacinto River east of Houston, cleanup crews battled strong currents to try to control another flood _ that of fuel leaking into the river from four ruptured pipelines.

Cleanup crews battled river currents and intense flames from fires that had been burning for more than 24 hours since the two pipelines exploded Thursday. About 120 people suffered minor injuries.

Coast Guard Capt. Richard Ford said the goal Friday was to contain the oil and keep it from Galveston Bay, which is ringed by sensitive marshlands. They were unsuccessful, however, and scrambled to come up with a new plan.

Meanwhile, rescue crews in boats fanned out across high waters looking for stranded animals on roof tops and trees.

The floods also wreaked havoc on railways. A runaway houseboat in the Houston area on Tuesday knocked out 400 feet of a railway bridge spanning the San Jacinto.

As a result, passengers on Amtrak's coast-to-coast railway line will have to be taken by bus through the area until the bridge can be repaired, he said. The job is expected to be done by Nov. 1.

Amtrak's Sunset Limited line runs three times a week through Texas on its route between Miami and Los Angeles.

Floodwaters across southeastern Texas, including the San Jacinto, have begun to recede, but trouble appeared to be still ahead for some areas.

State officials said the Trinity and Neches rivers east of Houston and the Brazos River southwest of the city were expected to crest before today.

To the southwest of Houston, the Brazos was 2 feet over flood stage at Richmond and moving toward Brazoria County, where some roads were flooded.

Besides the three relief centers that opened Friday, authorities hoped to establish others in hard-hit counties by next week.

_ Information from the Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.

How to help

Texans are collecting money for victims of this week's raging floods. An account has been set up with a tax-exempt status to accept donations. Checks should be sent to The Flood Victims Fund, NationsBank, PO Box 359, Conroe, Texas. 77305-0359