Harford County residents are offering their thoughts and prayers to people dealing with Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath, after the storm slammed into the Gulf Coast of Texas last weekend.
A collection drive to aid victims of Harvey will be held at Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company Wednesday.
Closer to home, motorists in the county already are beginning to see effects from the storm in the form of higher prices at the gas pumps.
Kristine Davis, a 20-year member of the fire company, is organizing Wednesday’s donation drive at the main station on Hickory Avenue in Bel Air.
She has family in the Houston area, who have suffered some damage but were relatively unharmed by Hurricane Harvey. They have been telling her what supplies are needed.
The biggest needs are toiletries, baby food and pet food as well as other non-perishable foods. They’re also asking for walkers and wheelchairs for the elderly, Davis said.
And water. Lots of water. Some places are charging $20 a case, according to Davis.
The drive will begin at the station at 7 a.m. and will continue all day, she said. If people are still interested, they’ll continue collecting on Thursday.
The message Davis posted on her Facebook page under “Help for Houston!” asks for water, food, blankets, pet food, baby items — no clothes.
Davis said Tuesday she was still researching ways to get the supplies to Texas. She’s been contacting local distributors and plans to contact the American Red Cross, “anybody that cn possibly help us get the supplies down there.”
If not, several people have volunteered to load up their cars and convoy to Texas, she said.
Anyone who can help with transportation can contact Davis at 443-243-5060 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
After the riots in Baltimore two years ago, Davis organized a similar collection for items to give to police officers and military who were responding to the chaos in the city.
“An unbelievable amount of people reached out and we received an unbelievable amount of donations,” Davis said, adding they had two tractor trailers full of donations.
“This county is all heart, they want to contribute in any way they can,” she said, “...people have been reaching out, asking me what they can do. There are still good people in this world.”
Pain at the pump
Flooding from Harvey has forced several refineries off-line along the Gulf Coast, and motorists have begun to feel that impact.
Gasoline prices in Harford County that were in the $2.15 to $2.19 per gallon range on Friday were up to $2.23 in some places and as high as $2.29 to $2.33 per gallon on Tuesday afternoon.
Some of the the increases might not necessarily be warranted, a spokesperson for AAA said.
“Harvey did disrupt oil and gasoline production in the Gulf Coast,” Christine Delise, senior public affairs specialist for AAA Northeast, said, adding that a quarter of the oil refineries capacity has been taken offline because of the storm.
But there’s really no justification for that significant of an increase, she said, given that it’s still August and we’re in Maryland, where gas is supplied from refineries in Delaware and the Colonial Pipeline, in addition to the refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The concern is that it may be a self-fufilling prophecy that we’re all talking about the nationwide increase in prices and retailers are raising prices out of fear the cost of gasoline in their September shipments will likely be higher,” Delise said. “They need more cash up front to pay for their September deliveries at a higher cost.”
Michael Klein of Klein’s ShopRite Gas ‘N Go on Bond Street in Bel Air, said gas prices have been known to fluctuate during weather related emergencies.
“Once the storm passes and the industry gets back online, it will balance itself out,” Klein said.
Klein’s was selling gas at $2.29 per gallon for regular on Monday, up from $2.16 per gallon a couple days earlier.
Klein thinks the increase will be short-term, to two days to a week, and pointed out that gas prices were higher before summer started than they are now.
Around Bel Air Monday, gas was $2.23 per gallon at Wawa and Royal Farms at the intersection of Routes 22 and 543 and at Safeway near Greenbrier Shopping Center. Carroll Fuel on Baltimore Pike was selling gas for $2.29 a gallon.
Prices appear to be up more significantly in Harford than elsewhere in Maryland.
Maryland’s average price per gallon on Friday for regular gas was $2.29 per gallon; by Monday it was $2.31, according to Delise.
Nationally, she said, gas prices over the last week are only up by 4 cents per gallon, the largest weekly increase for the summer.
Klein, who called the devastation caused by Harvey “a tragedy,” said if any of the refineries suffer major damage from Harvey, and they have to be taken offline for more than a year, “it would be catastrophic.”
“But I’m not aware of any of that right now,” he said.
As a spot market buyer, rather than a contract buyer, Klein said he seeks availability from where the market is and provides gas at the lowest cost it can.
How long they stay high depends on several factors, including how quickly the refineries in the Gulf of Mexico can get back online and delivering gasoline again.
AAA’s Delise said she expects prices to go up a little more heading into Labor Day weekend, when demand typically increases, but they should go back down by mid-September.
“That’s when refineries switch to their winter blend gasoline, which is cheaper, and that will help to keep prices in check,” Delise said.
The increases won’t be enough to keep drivers off the roads, she said.
“Travelers often make their plans weeks in advance, and if they realize they are going to pay more in gas, they’ll typically try and conserve money elsewhere,” Delise said. “They’re really not going to change their plans.”
A 4-cent per gallon increase to fill a 15 to 18-gallon tank is not “significant bucks,” she said.
“We’re not talking significant budget increase,” she added.
Delise cautioned that if the distributors in Maryland are asked to send their product elsewhere in the United States, like Texas, where their sole source of gasoline is the refineries along the Gulf of Mexico, prices locally could go up even more.
Thinking of victims
Harford County officials are keeping the people in southeast Texas in their thoughts as they clean up from Hurricane Harvey.
“Our hearts go out to the folks in Texas,” Cindy Mumby, spokesperson for Harford County government, said Monday.
She said the county wasn’t able to respond to a recent request for help in the area hit by Harvey, but it’s possible it could lend a hand were they asked again.
Through the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency sent out a nationwide request for swiftwater rescue teams to respond to the devastation.
“Based on logistics at the time, we didn’t fill their request,” Mumby said. “But if the situations worsens and additional help is needed, there is a possibility we would offer assistance.”
She encouraged Harford residents to use Harvey as a reminder to be prepared for an emergency.
“We would like to encourage citizens to review their own emergency preparedness plans and the guide Harford County has,” Mumby said. “You think it can’t happen, we’re not the Gulf Coast, but we have had severe flooding before. We urge citizens to be prepared on their end.”
“When you see that happen, our thoughts and prayers go to the people, the families affected, and at the same time it’s a reminder we need to prepare for the unexpected,” she said.