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Harvey expected to impact holiday travelers

Harvey expected to impact holiday travelers

Air travel likely to feel 'ripple effect' of hub closure
Harvey expected to impact holiday travelers
An abandoned car during flooding in Houston, Aug. 29, 2017.
Photographer: Andrew Burton/The New York Times

CAPITAL REGION -- With a big travel holiday weekend approaching, people in the Capital Region can anticipate paying at least a little more for gasoline, thanks to Hurricane Harvey's impact on a region critical to the oil refining industry.

Nationwide, the American Automobile Association said the average price per gallon has risen 4 cents since last week, to $2.37, and that that is largely due to the still-evolving impact of Harvey on the Gulf Coast. Some analysts believe the increase could be 10 to 20 cents per gallon, though it would probably fall again as refining capacity comes back online.

"About 3 million barrels a day are taken off line, so that's significant, and that ripples its way down through the system," said Eric Stigberg, a spokesman for AAA Northway in Schenectady. "The impact will be fairly dramatic but also fairly quick."

In 2016, the AAA stopped conducting surveys about Americans' Labor Day holiday travel plans, saying it sees less travel than on other holiday weekends, but Stigberg said he expects auto travel to be heavy. 

"This is sort of the last hurrah for summer travelers -- a last chance for people to get away," Stigberg said. "We saw during holiday periods starting early summer that there were record levels of travel, and I would expect that to continue through this coming holiday weekend."

In the Capital Region, the immediate affect on gas prices has been a little less than it has been nationally, since there is significant gas inventory in the Northeast. According to GasBuddy.com, in the past week, prices in Albany having risen about 3 cents, to $2.37, but they could continue to rise.

"Gas prices are up in many places, and motorists should be gearing up for more in the coming weeks, thanks to Hurricane Harvey inundating significant refineries along the Texas coastline, leading to closures and tilting the delicate balance of supply and demand," said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy. "Prices will likely rise nearly countrywide heading into Labor Day."

With the refining industry heavily concentrated in the Houston area, about a quarter of the Gulf Coast's oil refining capacity has been taken offline, according to the Oil Price Information Service -- and the overall damage to refineries from the hurricane and ongoing flooding remains uncertain.

"No doubt, Harvey has impacted operations and access to refineries on the Gulf Coast," said Jeanette Casselano, a national AAA spokeswoman. "Despite the country's overall oil and gas inventories being at or above five-year highs, until there is a clear picture of damage and an idea when refineries can return to full operations status, gas prices will continue to increase."

Gas prices, however, aren't the only thing drivers should be concerned about. Law enforcement agencies across the country will be targeting drunken drivers with additional patrols on the roads through Sept. 4.

While most people who travel for Labor Day do so by car, the airline industry is also seeing an impact from the storm.

Before Harvey struck last weekend, Airlines for America, a trade group representing U.S. airlines, was predicting Labor Day holiday travel would increase by as much as 5 percent over last year, to 16.1 million flyers between Wednesday, Aug. 30 and Tuesday, Sept. 5. The association said airlines were planning to increase flights to meet that demand.

But that was before the hurricane hit, shutting down George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, a major location for airlines, including United and Southwest, both of which also serve Albany International Airport. Due to the shutdowns nationally, thousands of flights have been canceled.

"Any time a major hub is down, it's going to have a ripple effect, but the airlines are rerouting people through other airports," said Albany airport spokesman Doug Myers.

So far, though, there's been no impact in Albany, Myers said. He said the airport expects to see a small increase in passenger boardings this Labor Day over last year.

"We're anticipating 1 or 2 percent growth; that's what we've been seeing all year," he said.

Fundraisers planned locally for hurricane victims

CAPITAL REGION -- With rain still falling in southeastern Texas and tens of thousands of people homeless because of flooding that's predicted to last for days, fundraising for Hurricane Harvey disaster relief has started both nationally and throughout the Capital Region:

  • WAMC public radio in Albany will devote its day Wednesday to fundraising for the American Red Cross, which has sent volunteers and supplies to the Houston area. "We watch, like the rest of the world, the great heartache happening in Texas and feel helpless," said Joe Donohue, WAMC's senior director of news and programming. "This gives us all an opportunity to make a difference and show that our community does not end with a state line. We are people helping people."
  • Victory Christian Church and Jezreel International will hold a concert and prayer vigil at 7 p.m. Thursday at Victory Church, 1312 Central Ave., Colonie. Roy Fields, a worship leader with Run With Fire Ministries, will perform the concert. Jezreel, which is based in Colonie, will ship truckloads of needed items to families in the Houston area. Proceeds from the concert will go toward shipping costs.
  • The Tri-City Valley Cats, the Class A minor league affiliate of the Houston Astros, said $1 from every ticket sold until Saturday will be donated to the American Red Cross. The team plays its home games at Joe Bruno Stadium in Troy, and has home games Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
  • Relief organizations say cash donations are what are most needed at this time, rather than non-perishable food, water or items like diapers. "Monetary donations are the most flexible and can be used immediately in response to a crisis," Salvation Army spokeswoman Dulcinea Kimrey told AccuWeather, the weather service that is also accepting donations on its website.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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