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Hurricanes Leave Huge Economic Footprint

Oil's Price Passes $51 As Southeast Tries to Recover From Storms

By Justin Blum and Nell Henderson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 6, 2004; Page E01

The four hurricanes that recently struck the southeastern United States left a lingering imprint on the national economy by pushing up oil prices, wiping out jobs and disrupting shipments of fruits and vegetables to grocery stores.

While residents of Florida and several other states are still coping with the most visible signs of destruction from the hurricanes that hit in August and September -- flattened houses and businesses -- the economic damage is still rippling across the country.

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Persistent production problems caused by the hurricanes helped drive oil prices further into record territory yesterday, passing the $51 a barrel level.

Giant Food, the Washington region's biggest grocery chain, has blamed the hurricanes for higher prices on a variety of produce.

In the past week, the chain has raised the price of green squash from $1.49 to $1.99, eggplant from $1.29 to $1.79 and green beans from $1.69 to $1.99, said Barry F. Scher, a Giant spokesman.

Signs posted inside the produce section of Giant's 200 Washington area stores say that the hurricanes have resulted in "less quantities and higher cost for limited product."

Safeway Inc., which has about 140 stores in the region, has not experienced produce shortages and has not raised prices, but spokesman Greg TenEyck said both are "inevitable."

Production of oil in the Gulf of Mexico remains severely impaired because of damage from last month's Hurricane Ivan, and repairs are taking longer than expected.

U.S. benchmark crude for November delivery closed yesterday at a record $51.09 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. As oil prices rise, gasoline and diesel fuel prices continue to increase. Nationally, the average price of regular gasoline climbed to more than $1.93 a gallon yesterday, according to the AAA auto club. Diesel rose to a record of more than $2.07 a gallon.

The four hurricanes, which struck over six weeks, have wiped out thousands of jobs and billions of dollars worth of property, economists estimate. The hurricanes caused parts of 10 eastern states from Florida to Vermont to be declared federal disaster areas.


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