HUGO'S VICTIMS THREATENED BY PRICE GOUGING

Government relief officials are concerned anew about price gouging in hurricane-damaged Charleston. Most merchants and restaurateurs are selling their goods and services at normal prices, and often under extremely difficult circumstances.

``But there's still a lot of price gouging going on in the area,'' says Mark Chambers, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency here.

Overcharging ``is not wholesale,'' Mr. Chambers says, but is occurring frequently enough to concern relief officials.

Chambers cites several examples. One entrepreneur sold a $500 generator for $2,000. And a service station sold gas for $2.79 a gallon.

``Some chain saws are going for much more than they are worth,'' he says.

In a few cases, ``landlords are trying to make people pay [rent] for an apartment even though it's destroyed.''

Since the hurricane struck Charleston two weeks ago, South Carolina Gov. Carroll Campbell and Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley have been trying to prevent price gouging by warning merchants against it, exposing it when it occurs, and attempting to make an example of any guilty party.

Officials hope that this newest airing of the issue will dissuade other quick-buck artists from inflating their prices in the future.

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