Hotel rooms for $1,000 a night. Gasoline prices spiking. Even bottled water prices doubling or tripling overnight.
Officials in Texas say the winter storm that knocked out power and water to millions of residents is providing an opportunity for some unscrupulous merchants to take advantage of the situation by charging exorbitant prices for essential supplies.
A system set up Wednesday in Houston for residents to report incidents of price gouging received more than 450 complaints in less than 20 hours, said Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee, the chief civil attorney for Texas' largest county.
"The main types of things we're seeing is hotels setting prices at ridiculous rates," Menefee said. "We've seen allegations of packs of water being sold for two to three times the normal price, or packs of water being divvied up and the individual bottles being sold at excessive prices."
Dashawn Walker, 33, searched for a hotel room Tuesday night to avoid the cold of his powerless Dallas apartment. After finding all the rooms in Dallas booked, he ended up driving to an extended stay hotel in the suburb of Lewisville only to pay $474 for a one-night stay.
"It's crazy," he said. "I mean why would y'all go up on the hotels in the middle of a crisis? Like, dude, come on now. Everyone is just trying to make it and they're capitalizing off a crisis, and that's so unfair to people who really can't afford it."
Such price spikes are illegal under Texas law, which prohibits selling fuel, food, medicine, lodging, building materials or other necessities "at an exorbitant or excessive price" during a state or federal disaster declaration.