The government began setting up food distribution centers Friday to relieve shortages caused by four days of rioting that reportedly has left 300 people dead and rocked one of Latin America's most durable democracies.

Buses and cars circulated normally in Caracas as the capital began to look like its old self, with early morning traffic jams and honking horns replacing some of the tensions of this week's unrest.Earlier in the evening, soldiers hunting snipers and seeking looters conducted house-to-house searches in downtown Caracas and the western slums.

Automatic weapons fire was heard after midnight as soldiers fired in the air and at buildings. It appeared the gunfire, in addition to flushing out suspected snipers, was meant to enforce the government's strict dusk-to-dawn curfew by keeping people off the streets.

Venezuelans, unaccustomed to the rigors of a state of emergency after three decades of political stability, have tended to remain on the streets despite the curfew, making soldiers nervous.

Growing food shortages have threatened the government's attempts to restore order.

Looters emptied the shelves of supermarkets and neighborhood grocery stores in the first days of rioting. Since then, part of the 22,000 police and soldiers ordered on alert in Caracas have guarded stores, where people have been waiting hours in line to buy such staples as eggs, bread and cheese.

In a nationwide television broadcast Thursday, President Carlos Andres Perez' chief of staff said the capital was steadily returning to normal but acknowledged there were still "pockets of disturbance" that the military was trying to quell.