ATLANTA — Motorists are rising before dawn so they can be at the filling station when the delivery truck arrives. Some are skipping work or telecommuting. Others are taking the extreme step — for Atlanta — of switching to public transportation.
Across a section of the South, a hurricane-induced gasoline shortage that was expected to last only a few days is dragging into its third week, and experts say it could persist into mid October. The Atlanta area has been hit particularly hard, along with Nashville and western North Carolina.
Those lucky enough to find gas are paying more than drivers elsewhere around the country.
"I've used up gas just looking for gas," said Larry Jenkins, a construction worker who pulled his red pickup truck into a Citgo station in Charlotte, N.C., on Monday. The sign said $3.99 a gallon, but the pumps were closed. Many filling stations in the area have not had gas for days.
"Right now, I'll pay anything for gas," Jenkins said. "I don't care if it's $5 or $6 a gallon. I need it."
The shortage started with the one-two punch of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which shut down refineries along the Gulf Coast. Now, more than two weeks after Ike, many refineries are still making fuel at reduced levels.
While other parts of the country get gasoline from a variety of domestic and overseas sources, the Southeast relies heavily on two pipelines that carry fuel from the Gulf of Mexico. Because the gasoline moves at just 3 to 5 mph, it can take up to 10 days to reach Atlanta.
A tendency among panicky drivers to top off their tanks every time they pass an open station has only made matters worse.
In the meantime, government agencies have postponed public hearings, community colleges have canceled classes, and some companies have provided vans for carpooling or encouraged employees to work from home.
Police officers and a security guard were on hand to manage the flow of cars at a downtown Atlanta gas station Monday.
"I was just in Atlanta yesterday. There is no gasoline in Atlanta, in Charlotte, in Chattanooga. It's like a Third World country," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Sunday on ABC.