As Florida drivers hit the road to escape Hurricane Irma, the demand for gasoline has outpaced supply, leaving filling stations throughout the state short of fuel.
"It's horrible, man," said Aaron Izquierdo, who waited in a long line of cars at a Shell station in Doral on Friday. "Just yesterday I was in line for two hours to wait for gas, and by the time we got to the pump there was no gas."
In Gainesville, 60 percent of the gasoline stations were without fuel, according to Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at the crowdsourcing website Gasbuddy.com. In Miami, it was 40 percent.
Even in the Tampa area, far from the expected landfall, more than a third of stations lacked fuel, he said.
Irma is coming fast on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, which clobbered the Texas and Louisiana coasts and left a quarter of the nation's oil refining capacity off-line.
But the problem in Florida isn't supply. It's demand.
Gasoline companies usually know pretty much where a hurricane is going to hit and can target supplies to that area. Irma has been harder to forecast, so a lot more people have chosen to evacuate.
"Unfortunately, because everyone panicked because of the uncertainty...we ended up with shortages in multiples areas of the state," said James Miller, spokesman for the Florida Retail Association.
"The amount of motorists filling their tanks is overwhelming the system. Trucks can't get to the stations fast enough," DeHaan said. "And at the rack, or what some might call fuel terminals, tanker trucks can't be loaded as fast as motorists are filling their tanks."
State officials are trying to keep supplies flowing, by waiving restrictions on the number of hours that truckers transporting gasoline can work and even providing tanker trucks with police escorts. The White House too is trying to make it easier to bring fuel into the country by waiving the Jones Act, which bars foreign-flagged vessels from transporting goods between U.S. ports.
Still, finding fuel can be dicey.
Scott Alderman, who lives in Broward County, was out for a bike ride this morning when he passed a gas station without fuel.
"But a tanker truck was pulling in and, like the pied piper, there were 15 or 20 cars following him," he said.
Alderman has lived through hurricanes before and knows that, once the electricity goes out, it can be days before gas is available again. So he immediately went into action, racing home to tell his wife to fill up her car.
She got to the station within five minutes, he said. But she still had to wait nearly an hour to fill up her tank.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
There's a gasoline shortage in Florida, and it's getting worse. As Hurricane Irma heads towards the state, a lot of people are on highways, trying to get away from the storm's path. Even those that are staying put are filling their gas tanks to be on the safe side. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.
JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: All over Florida today, gasoline stations were shut down, their empty fuel tanks roped off or covered with plastic bags. Where gas was available, long lines of cars waited to fill up. Aaron Izquierdo brought his father's car to a Shell station in Doral today.
AARON IZQUIERDO: It's horrible, man. Just yesterday I was in line for about two hours to wait for gas. And then by the time we got to the pump, there was no gas.
ZARROLI: Irma is following close on the heels of Harvey, which hit Texas and Louisiana and shut down a quarter of the nation's refining capacity. But the problem in Florida isn't supply. It's demand. James Miller of the Florida Retail Association says usually gasoline companies know where a hurricane is going to hit and can target supplies to that region.
JAMES MILLER: But unfortunately because everyone panicked due to the uncertainty and quite frankly the size of the storm, we ended up with shortages in multiple areas of the state.
ZARROLI: As a result, 40 percent of the filling stations in the Miami area were without fuel today. It was 60 percent in Gainesville. Even in Tampa, which is far from the expected landfall, more than a third of the stations had no gas. Patrick DeHaan is a senior analyst at the website GasBuddy.
PATRICK DEHAAN: The amount of motorists filling their tank is overwhelming the system. Trucks can't get to stations fast enough. And at the rack, or what some might call a fuel terminal, tanker trucks just can't be loaded as fast as motorists are filling their tanks.
ZARROLI: Officials are trying to keep supplies flowing. To keep fuel trucks coming in, they've waived restrictions on the number of hours that truck drivers can work and are even giving trucks police escorts. And the White House has lifted rules to allow foreign-flagged ships to bring in fuel. Still, it's dicey finding gas. Scott Alderman of Broward County went for a bike ride today.
SCOTT ALDERMAN: I happened by a gas station that did not have gas. But a tanker was pulling right in. And like the pied piper, there were, like, 15, 20 cars following him.
ZARROLI: Alderman has lived through hurricanes before, and he knows that if the electricity goes out during the storm, it may be days before gas is available again. So as soon as he saw the tanker coming, he took action.
ALDERMAN: I raced home on my bike to tell my wife, hey, you need to go fill up. And she had about an hour wait within five minutes of me getting home and telling her.
ZARROLI: Florida gets almost all of its gasoline through seaports, and once they close tonight, it will be that much harder to get fuel. But people typically tend to stop driving as much in the aftermath of a big hurricane as they rebuild their lives, and supplies should gradually balance out again. Jim Zarroli, NPR News.
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