When the gas gauge on Jada Burns’ Kia wagon was on empty Tuesday afternoon, she lucked out, catching her neighborhood Chevron station at a time when its pumps were open.
But the clerk, Mamadou Diallo, said he expected to be sold out by rush hour. With drivers already forming a line, it was about 20 minutes before Burns could fill up.
“This is the first time I’ve had to actually wait,” said Burns, 33, who earlier had passed by a station where the line was much longer. “This is crazy, isn’t it?”
The impact of hurricanes Gustav and Ike was being felt far beyond the wind-battered Gulf Coast this week: In Southeastern states, gas shortages and long lines were widespread due to oil industry interruptions and damage to the energy infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico.
At least half of the stations in Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee and the Carolinas ran out of gasoline over the weekend, said Tom Kloza, an analyst with the Oil Price Information Service.
In Atlanta, gas could be found without trouble in some areas Tuesday, but in others the stations were closed and pumps were bagged. The federal Environmental Protection Agency granted a waiver for the Atlanta metro area, allowing for the sale of a less-clean kind of gas.
Georgia leaders hope that will help alleviate the shortages, since Atlanta normally relies on a specially produced low-sulfur blend meant to help with the city’s smog problem.
Similar waivers have been issued in more than a dozen states since late August to address hurricane-related shortages, said Mary Welge, an editor with the Oil Price Information Service.
But a waiver like Georgia’s is not likely to solve the problem immediately, Welge said, noting that it could be “a few more weeks” before supplies return to normal.
The problem is compounded by worried motorists who don’t know where their next tank of gas will come from.
“People are panic-buying -- topping off their tanks, then taking their one vehicle home and returning with another one,” said Paul Tomaszewski, owner of Pacer Fuels, an Austell, Ga., company that operates 10 stations and delivers gasoline to dozens more. “We’re using a lot of product, and consequently we’re running these stores dry.”
In Georgia, the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gas was $3.96 on Tuesday, compared with $3.72 nationwide. So far, many say, the shortage is more of an inconvenience than a crisis.
Luke Allardice, an assistant manager of a pizza restaurant near Emory University, said the gas-related jitters were unfounded: His delivery drivers, he said, can still get gas when they need it.
“It’s just everybody overreacting and acting silly about it.”