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One station sold gas for a whopping $20 a gallon. A hotel reportedly charged guests more than twice the normal rate. One business sold bottles of water for a staggering $99 per case — more than 10 times some of the prices seen online.

As people in southeastern Texas face the devastating floodwater left by Hurricane Harvey, they are also grappling with predatory businesses that are selling basic necessities at astronomical prices. As of Wednesday morning, the state attorney general's office had received 684 consumer complaints, a majority of which involved price-gouging of bottled water, fuel, groceries and other necessities.

"Anytime catastrophic storms hit Texas, we witness the courage of our first responders and the generosity of neighbors coming together to help their fellow Texas," Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement. "Unfortunately, in the wake of the damage from storms and flooding, we also see bad actors taking advantage of victims and their circumstances."

In a few cases, people reported having to pay $3.50 a gallon for gas in Houston, about $1.30 more than the average gas price in the area, said Kayleigh Lovvorn, a spokeswoman for Paxton's office. A Houston convenience store charged $20 a gallon, she said. It's unclear if the jacked-up rates were the result of price-gouging or if the shutdown of refinery operations in the wake of Harvey was a factor, but the attorney general's office is investigating.

Meanwhile, some businesses sold water bottles for $8.50 each and cases for $99, Lovvorn said.
"These are things you can't do in Texas," Paxton told CNBC on Tuesday. "There are significant penalties if you price-gouge in a crisis like this."

The death toll from the hurricane has climbed to the double digits, as the devastating storm made landfall Wednesday morning in Louisiana.

State law prohibits businesses from charging exorbitant prices for necessities during times of disasters. Violators could face penalties of $20,000 per incident, Paxton said. If victims are age 65 and older, the penalty is more than 10 times higher - up to $250,000.

Lovvorn said she cannot give the names of the businesses cited in the complaints. Twitter users have shared a picture of bottled water being sold Friday at a Houston area Best Buy for more than $42 a case. The company said that a few store employees decided to sell cases of bottled water even though Best Buy does not sell them by the case.

"One Houston resident sent me a pic of water he saw being sold for *$42* at a nearby Best Buy. They were kind enough to offer $29 bottles too" - ken klippenstein (@kenklippenstein) August 29, 2017"

"This was clearly a mistake on the part of a few employees at a single store," Best Buy spokesman Shane Kitzman said in a statement. "We feel terrible about this because, as a company we are focused on helping, not hurting people affected by this terrible event. We are deeply sorry that we gave anyone even the momentary impression that we were trying to take advantage of the situation."

Kitzman said the company does not have pricing in its computer system for cases of water. The employees priced the cases by multiplying the cost of one bottle by the number of bottles in a case, "arriving at a number that is far, far higher than normal," Kitzman said.

At a Best Western location in Robstown, about 20 miles west of Corpus Christi, 40 guests were reportedly charged far above the normal rate. The overcharging was uncovered by ABC affiliate KXAN. A crew from the station booked a room and was charged $289.99 a night, according to KXAN. The total, $321.89 including taxes, is nearly three times the normal rate of $119 a night.

2018 Point-In-Time Homeless Census Highlights

2,996 homeless individuals counted, up 6 percent from 2017

5 percent cited October fires as the primary cause of homelessness

64 percent sleeping on the streets; 36 percent in shelters

747 chronically homeless, a 25 percent jump from last year

34 unaccompanied children under age 18, 71 percent of them unsheltered

481 homeless transition-age youth, aged 18-24, 88 percent of them unsheltered

104 homeless people in families with children, down from 111 in 2017

1,157 homeless women, up 35 percent from 2017

409 homeless adults aged 55 and older

207 homeless veterans, down 2 percent from 2017

22 percent employed full-time, part-time or seasonally/sporadically

19 percent reported a history of foster care

64 percent reported one or more health condition

44 percent reported a disabling condition: 35 percent psychiatric or emotional, 33 percent drug or alcohol abuse, 28 percent PTSD, 27 percent physical disability, 27 percent chronic health problems

90 percent wanted safe, affordable housing


Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

Best Western spokeswoman Kelly Dalton said in a statement that guests at that hotel have been reimbursed. She said the company is severing ties with the Robstown location, describing the actions as "egregious and unethical."

In Corpus Christi, a RaceWay gas station drew ire after a woman posted a Facebook video in which she said she was charged nearly $70 for two cases of beer, ABC News reported. RaceWay told the station that the overpricing was caused by a clerical error, not price-gouging. Ashleigh Womack, spokeswoman for RaceTrac Petroleum, which owns Raceway, said the store in question is operated by an independent contractor who has control over pricing of store merchandise.

"Nevertheless, we take these allegations seriously and are investigating them with the operator," Womack said.

The Texas Attorney General's Office is urging people to report possible cases of scamming and price-gouging by calling (800) 621-0508 or emailing consumeremergency@oag.texas.gov.

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