- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2008

RALEIGH, N.C.

More than a week after Hurricane Ike’s strike, drivers across the Southeast still are bouncing between dry pumps and shuttered stations in a frustrating hunt for a fill-up - and they’re starting to get angry.

Stations are shut down in Nashville, long lines are forming in Atlanta and fights are breaking out in bucolic Blue Ridge mountain towns.

Along with the soccer moms and NASCAR dads, even guys who play in the NFL are waiting for gas.

“It’s really ridiculous. You would have thought by now - four days into it - they would have sorted it out somehow,” Ahmard Hall, 28, a fullback with the Tennessee Titans, said Tuesday morning as he waited in a Nashville suburb for his turn at the pump. “You have to go driving around town, wasting gas, to try to find gas.”

Hurricane Ike shut down or reduced work at more than a dozen refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas, an area that accounts for about 20 percent of the nation’s gas and diesel production. Among those affected was Exxon Mobil Corp.’s refinery in Baytown, east of Houston and the nation’s largest.

It won’t get better until the Gulf Coast refineries disrupted by Ike - and before that, Hurricane Gustav - boot up again and start filling the empty pipelines that lead to thirsty stations.

In the meantime, gas station owners are selling whatever arrives from their suppliers - be it regular, premium or super unleaded.

“Some days are better than others. You take what you can get,” said Haddon Clark, vice president at Raleigh-based United Energy, which operates about 75 gas stations in the eastern portion of North Carolina. “We’re forced to sell what we can find.”

The line was about 40 cars deep Tuesday afternoon at a 20-pump Quik Trip station just north of Atlanta. It was the only spot in the area with gas to sell, and police said they have been called often to referee spats about motorists cutting in line.

The station had regular for $3.98 a gallon - a few cents less than the city average of $4.02.

“I actually thought I was going to run out of gas before I found a station that had any,” said Jim Elliott, 47, a real estate agent who waited 45 minutes to spend $100 for 25 gallons to fuel his Hummer.

Mail carrier Chester McClendon, 38, was closing in on empty as he waited for a fill-up. The Quik Trip was a dozen miles off his route, but he motored over after another carrier called him with news that the station had gas.

“I knew there was a shortage, but I didn’t realize it was to this extent,” Mr. McClendon said. “For me, it pushes everything back. I was expecting to be done around 4 [p.m.], and now it probably will be more like 5 or 5:30, especially because now I’ll also get stuck in traffic.”

At Clark’s stores in North Carolina, most are selling only regular unleaded - although at any given time, he said, several don’t have any gas at all.

Without the gas, store owners who count on sales of sodas and snacks to make up for the thin margins on fuel sales are feeling the pinch.

“When someone stops for gas, usually they come in and get something in the store,” said Michael Peters, the manager of a BP station in Raleigh. “Now, they drive up and see [gas] is out, and they keep going.”

AP writers Kate Brumback and Travis Loller contributed to this report.

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