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Gas shortages stall drivers in Southeast

Gulf Coast refinery shutdowns lead to long lines, closed stations.

September 27, 2008|Steven Mufson | Washington Post

Gasoline shortages hit towns across the southeastern United States this week, sparking panic buying, long lines and high prices in the wake of hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

In Atlanta, half the gasoline stations were closed, according to AAA, which said the supply disruptions had taken place along two major pipelines that have operated at well below capacity since the hurricanes knocked offshore oil production and several refineries out of service along the Gulf of Mexico.

Motorists in Charlotte, N.C., reported lines with as many as 60 cars waiting to fill up late Wednesday night and a community college in Asheville, N.C., where most of the 25,000 students commute, closed down Wednesday for the rest of the week. Shortages also hit Nashville and Knoxville, Tenn., and Spartanburg, S.C., AAA said.

Liz Clasen-Kelly, associate director of a homeless assistance center in Charlotte, took the bus to work Thursday. On Wednesday night, she and her husband checked five stations that had no gas, passed a long line backed up onto the interstate and chose not to wait at an open gas station with 50 to 60 cars still lined up after 11 p.m.

"If we had waited in that line, our car wouldn't have made it," she said, adding that the gauge was pointing to empty. The bus took her 45 minutes longer than usual. "It makes you realize how addicted you are to convenience," she said.

In Atlanta, Jonathan Tyson, a Douglasville resident who works for a company that does training for auto and RV franchise dealerships, ran out of fuel while waiting an hour in a line about 60 cars long to fill up his Land Rover. A man from the car behind helped push Tyson's vehicle down the road.

"It was crazy," Tyson said. "People were standing on the side of the road with gas cans saying they'd pay the person to run a [credit] card through just to get gas so they didn't run out before they got up to the pump themselves."

AAA spokesman John Townsend said that Colonial Pipeline, which delivers much of the region's gas supply, and the smaller Plantation Pipeline, which belongs to Kinder Morgan, were functioning below capacity because of lingering refinery problems along the Gulf Coast.

The Energy Department said five refineries that produce about 5% of the nation's total gasoline supplies remained closed and several other refineries were still working at less than full capacity.

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