Fort Mill Times

Not much gas, but lots of lines

Fort Mill police direct traffic around PJ's Citgo on Spratt Street. The station was one of the few in the township that had gasoline to dispense last week. Hurricane Ike disrupted Gulf Coast refineries nearly three weeks ago, and fuel has been scarce ever since.
Fort Mill police direct traffic around PJ's Citgo on Spratt Street. The station was one of the few in the township that had gasoline to dispense last week. Hurricane Ike disrupted Gulf Coast refineries nearly three weeks ago, and fuel has been scarce ever since.

FORT MILL TOWNSHIP -- New shipments of gasoline that were supposed to ease a worsening local fuel shortage did not materialize as predicted over the weekend.

Officials were optimistic that supplies would reach this area this week and on Tuesday morning more stations were opened than on Monday and prices had fallen to less than $3.70 a gallon for the first time in weeks. In the meantime, the pumps at many local gas stations were festooned with the yellow bags that signal drivers to move on. Filling stations that do have gas are attracting so many cars at once that traffic jams occur within minutes.

Fort Mill police had to direct traffic around PJ's Citgo on Spratt Street last Thursday. Cars were lined up 15 to 20 deep around the pumps.

At around 3 p.m., workers at PJ's said they had about 900 gallons left to dispense.

At Love's truck stop on Sutton Road in Fort Mill, more than 30 cars and commercial 18-wheelers were stacked up at around 6:30 a.m. that morning.

Fuel has been scarce and more expensive since Hurricane Ike disrupted Gulf Coast refineries nearly three weeks ago.

In Indian Land, the Gate Petroleum station received a half-tanker of gas, workers there said. The station typically receives a full tanker three times a day: One in the morning, at midday and another in late evening. The pumps quickly attracted customers, sometimes five and six cars deep, and the station was out of gas by 9 a.m.

John Walton at Cobblestone Creek Market and Texaco station in Indian Land said he's been out of gas for two days. He hoped a tanker would arrive soon but, "I couldn't say when." Walton said he expected the tanker will only be half full.

If customers rush to the station to fill up, like they have at stations around the township, Walton said he expects the new supply to be gone within a few hours.

At least some stations said they are making money despite the fuel shortage.

Kenny Gerlipp, manager of the Gate Petroleum station in Fort Mill, said business inside the stores remains consistent. He credits the lottery for much of the store's foot traffic.

Ike is still affecting the availability of gas throughout the region, according to AAA Carolinas spokesman Tom Crosby. Panic buying is exacerbating the problem, he said, as drivers continue to top off their tanks anytime they pass a gas station that actually has some product to sell.

In recent days, AAA has seen a 25 percent increase in the number of calls from members who have run out of gas. When such calls are received AAA will dispatch a tow truck to give the member a lift, or when supplies are available, send enough gas to get the driver home under their own power, Crosby said.

"We're dealing with the same thing everyone else is," he said.

AAA is asking drivers not to fill up unless they have less than half a tank of gas to relieve some of the pressure on the limited supply that will be trickling into the region until all the refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast are fully operational again.

Patricia Larson contributed to this story.

Fuel crisis weighs heavy on store employees, too

FORT MILL TOWNSHIP -- Drivers are not the only ones frustrated by the gasoline shortage created by Hurricane Ike. Filling station employees are feeling the wrath of anxious, gas-starved consumers.

Even when gasoline is available, customers are grumbling at prices that have hovered around $3.75 or more a gallon for the past week.

Bill Halbruner, who has worked at the Gate station on Hwy. 160 West for four years, said the comments he's heard are getting increasingly harsh. Halbruner, 65, said he's confident "prices are dropping," however, and everything is "getting back to normal soon."

An employee at another township filling station said customers are threatening to file complaints alleging price gouging and withhold business in the future. The employee, who asked not to be identified because she is not authorized to speak on the company's behalf, said the filling station where she works couldn't be engaging in price gouging because they had no product to sell.

Ray Wiggins, 47, who works at the Shell station on Gold Hill Road, said customers come into the store "in a panic mode...like the planet is running out of gas."

Wiggins, who has worked at the Shell for seven months, said the station had to close up early when the pumps ran dry and had to wait three days for a tanker. He pointed out that when the store has to close unexpectedly, the employees don't get paid.

Katie Sanders from the Exxon/KOA on Gold Hill Road said the gas station was one of the few that never had to close due to lack of gas.

Sanders said it is frustrating to try to "make ends meet" while paying the same high prices for gas as everyone else. She said the customers vent on clerks like her and, "we get upset and try to defend ourselves. We don't set the prices."

Sanders said she "brings home a heavy heart" because of the situation.

-- By Heather McNair

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