- The Washington Times - Friday, September 2, 2005

Drivers who had hoped to get out of Washington to celebrate the last weekend of the summer are canceling or scaling back plans when they see gasoline soaring well over $3.

The average price of regular gas rose 16 cents yesterday to $2.89 per gallon in the Washington area, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic. But many downtown stations were charging more than $3 per gallon — some up to $3.49 — and lines formed at the least-expensive dealers.

D.C. resident Wilhelmina Williams and her extended family had planned to spend the three-day Labor Day weekend at her son’s new home in Charlotte, N.C.

“The gas prices did us in,” Ms. Williams said. “We had it all planned, the children all lined up, the pool was cleaned. I knew what I was going to be doing.”

But when her family saw $3 gas prices, they moved the weekend of relaxation to another relative’s home in the District, which didn’t put quite so heavy a strain on the gas tank and her sons’ sport utility vehicles, she said.

“We would have left this morning,” Ms. Williams said wistfully as she waited for a train at Metro Center yesterday. “But we’ll go there for Thanksgiving.”

Yesterday, North Carolina’s Outer Banks area was facing cancellations as a gas-shortage scare in the state had consumers holding off on their vacation plans.

Officials in Ocean City and the other Mid-Atlantic beaches also reported cancellations.

Noemi Almirez-Ramirez wanted to visit family in New York this weekend but changed her plans earlier this week.

“I had to bring the laptop home and gas was $3.19 this morning,” she said, explaining that the combination of a big workload and equally high bill at the pump forced her to cancel her trip.

AAA Mid-Atlantic had predicted 451,000 Washington-area residents would drive to vacation destinations this weekend.

In light of the spike in gas prices, the travel club predicted that number would drop.

“We probably will see fewer people travel,” said Lon Anderson, director of public and government affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Gas shortages and station closings were reported in various parts of the country, including Southeast Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina, sparking concern that vacationers wouldn’t be able to get home.

President Bush on Thursday urged Americans to limit their use of gas.

“Americans should be prudent in their use of energy during the course of the next few weeks. Don’t buy gas if you don’t need it,” Mr. Bush said.

While the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau was swamped with calls about gas supplies, tourism officials said the area had plenty of fuel.

“We get our fuel from fuel lines from Virginia and Northern areas and that supply is healthy,” said Carolyn McCormick, managing director for the bureau. She would not say how many cancellations have been made.

The region last week picked up a few travelers who had canceled vacations in the Gulf Coast before Hurricane Katrina hit, she said.

Ocean City officials also reported an undisclosed number of cancellations.

“We aren’t seeing a wave of cancellations. I think if there is an impact, it will be somewhat minor,” said Donna Abbott, spokeswoman for the Maryland resort’s tourism department.

Ocean City had projected more than 4 million visitors this summer, with an estimated 3.78 million visitors staying at the beach before this weekend. Ms. Abbott said she was not sure whether Ocean City would reach its goal.

Officials in Rehoboth and Dewey beaches in Delaware said they could pick up more travelers this weekend because of the rising gas prices.

“In the past, when prices have gone up — of course, they have never gone this high — we have found that often can benefit us because were are a gas tank away from most of our area markets,” said Carol Everhart, president and chief executive of the region’s chamber of commerce.

So far, the chamber has received only one cancellation call while other tourists called to check whether the area’s gas stations had adequate supply, Ms. Everhart said.

Despite the gas prices, the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau expected a “solid” weekend. The beach is scheduled to host the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon tomorrow for 22,000 runners.

“We haven’t heard of any cancellations because of the high gas prices,” said Ron Kuhlman, director for Virginia Beach tourism marketing and sales.

The area’s gas stations were selling a continuous supply yesterday and had not reported any shortages, Mr. Kuhlman said.

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