Long lines to buy gasoline snarled traffic and turned testy Monday as motorists jockeyed to reach the precious pumps at the few gas stations that were open. Tempers flared and fights broke out at some gas stations.
In Manchester, several people waiting for gas at Fast Freddies on Pleasant Valley Road began yelling and throwing snow at each other. Officers were sent to calm the situation. No arrests were made, Manchester Police Captain Christopher Davis said.
Citing large backups at gas stations, Davis issued a statement asking people "to check surrounding areas and towns for open gas stations … before waiting in long lines here."
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made a similar request, suggesting motorists drive toward the I-95 corridor to fill up their tanks. "You could wait in line for a long period of time or you could drive for a shorter period of time," Malloy said. "If you're anywhere near the I-95 corridor, go there."
In West Hartford, officials assigned a police officer to monitor every open gas station.
"We had to. We had fights," Town Manager Ron Van Winkle said, adding that the town also "commandeered some pumps" to make sure their public works and police fleet vehicles could get gasoline.
With gasoline in short supply, Attorney General George Jepsen put wholesalers and retailers on notice Monday afternoon that charging excessive prices for gasoline, heating oil and other fuels is prohibited through 5 p.m. on Nov. 7.
"Consumers who are already struggling to cope without electricity need to know that unscrupulous dealers will not be allowed to take advantage of the situation by seeking excessive profits," Jepsen said in a written statement. Anyone suspecting excessive profiteering was advised to call the state Department of Consumer Protection at 1-800-842-2649 during business hours and at 860-713-6160 after hours and on the weekend.
A Shell station at Main Street and Stoddard Avenue in Newington was one of the few open in the Newington-Wethersfield area, as many businesses on the Berlin Turnpike and Silas Deane Highway were closed because they had no power.
The Shell station opened at 5 a.m. and lines formed early. Lines were causing tie-ups in the intersection. The wait was about a half-hour to 45 minutes. Jessica Steren, from Winsted, had traveled along Route 44, with her boyfriend, Karsten Walker, until they found the Shell station open.
The gasoline lines were long Monday, but the queues for hot coffee were even longer in some places, at least in the morning. Many people described waiting 30 or more minutes in line to buy coffee.
At the Starbucks in Newington, about 30 people waited for their caffeine fix at 9 a.m., rivaling the lines for gasoline. Nearby on the Berlin Turnpike, McDonald's, Wendy's and Dunkin' Donuts and other fast food restaurants were closed because they had no electricity.
Tricia Lamore, who was standing in the Starbucks line Monday morning, said the wait for coffee was 45 minutes Sunday at the Dunkin' Donuts on Main Street in Newington.
Several people at the Starbucks line wore knitted caps and said they were happy just to be out of the house. "I'm driving around to keep warm," said Russ Levere of Newington, who was without power at home. "I stopped for a cup of coffee."
But while hot coffee is much-needed after a night with no heat, the gasoline situation reflected more urgency. Dave Sauer has been the co-owner of Marty's Service Station in Mansfield with his brother Dennis since 1969, but said he has never seen lines for gas like he did Monday.
"This is even worse than the two fuel shortages we had in '73," Sauer said.
There was a constant line of cars snaking out of Marty's small parking lot onto Route 44 in front of the Grand Union shopping plaza all day, even when Dave ran out of regular gas around 4 p.m. and only had premium left. There was little time to fix cars Monday, which is the station's main business.
The two stations down the street on Route 44 – Gulf and Valero – were out of gas.
Jim Daigle of Tolland went to five gas stations before he ended up at Marty's. Even the truck stop on Ruby Road in Willington, he said, wasn't pumping gas.
"The lines were outrageous, unbelievable," he said.
David Roggi, who had no power at his home in Bolton, filled five gas cans for his generator.
"I came from Manchester, everybody's out of gas, there's long lines," he said. "You don't want to go towards civilization. It gets worse."
Some drivers were filling gasoline cans as well — perhaps for chain saws, generators or other cars — further slowing the lines.
Tricia Lamore, who had been in the Newington Starbucks, owns Lamore's Gulf Station and towing company on the Silas Deane in Wethersfield with her husband, Todd. They were running on a generator Sunday, Tricia Lamore said. Customers waited in line for gasoline more than an hour Sunday to reach the pumps.
At one point Sunday night, a yelling match broke out, as motorists were coming to the line from different directions. The fight was apparently not serious, Tricia Lamore and a witness said.
Courant Staff Writers Lori Riley, Matthew Kauffman, Jesse Leavenworth and Daniela Altimari contributed to this story.
The Tense, Testy Wait For Scarce Fuel — Gasoline And Hot Coffee
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