Storm-Related Gas Shortages Irk Drivers In South

Gas stations across the Southeast have been running out of fuel, a lingering effect of hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which struck Texas and the Gulf Coast. Refineries had to shut down temporarily, halting the supply of gas into some areas.

The shortage has been felt strongly in places like Nashville, Tenn.; Tallahassee, Fla.; and North and South Carolina. In Atlanta, many stations are still out of gas, and others have long lines.

On Thursday, there was a strange sight at one of the few stations in the northern Atlanta suburbs that had gas: Dozens of cars waited in a line that snaked out of the station and right onto a main thoroughfare.

Some drivers in line said they had passed by more than half a dozen gas stations that had run out.

"It's driving me nuts. I think it's ridiculous, actually," said Keisha Jackson. Last week, she bought gas in the middle of the night when there were no lines. But now she needs to fill up again.

"You can't really blame people for panicking because people have to go to work," Jackson said. "We try to go on with our daily lives as normally as possible, but we can't do that without gas."

Gas supplies in parts of Georgia and elsewhere in the Southeast have been low for at least two weeks. That's because refineries shut down as a precaution before hurricanes Gustav and Ike hit. Although the facilities suffered little damage, it can take time for refineries to come back on line — some are still not up and running.

Even before the hurricanes, gas inventories were at their lowest levels since 1967, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. A spokesman for AAA Auto Club South, Randy Bly, says supplies still remain fairly thin throughout the Southeast.

"You're gonna still see lots of bags on the pump nozzles over the next couple days," Bly said. "I think that situation is going to improve over the weekend, but I don't look for things to be normal until well into next week."

In Atlanta, the supply problem is compounded by an EPA rule requiring stations to carry a cleaner-burning fuel. That fuel has been hard to get of late.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue was able to get a waiver from the EPA this week to allow dirtier-burning fuel to be sold in Atlanta. He says there's plenty of fuel in the city.

"It may not be where you are used to getting it, and there may have to be a waiting time to get that. These are all troublesome types of things. But we don't have a crisis in the sense that we had of no fuel coming [to Atlanta]," Perdue said.

The governor suggested that some of the shortage is self-induced — a result of people panicking and topping off their gas tanks.

Jim Tudor of the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores agrees.

"The whole distribution system throughout the United States is never designed that everybody at every moment can have a full tank of gas," Tudor said. "There's simply not enough underground storage in all the gas stations to accommodate that."

Some radio stations have taken to following tanker trucks on the street, Tudor said. Then, they announce where the gas is being delivered. And drivers have been sending text messages to one another with the same information.

Those trends have been creating long lines at stations that get their supply back. Many in Atlanta say that the commodity drivers now need most is patience.

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