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    Gas Shortages Continue With Panic Buying

    As Galveston residents return to devastation, Valero's refinery comes back online, but a lack of fuel at gas stations could continue for weeks.

    RICHMOND, Va. -- Gasoline outages impacting operators from Atlanta to Richmond and points in-between could last another one to two weeks as refineries in the Gulf Coast region slowly ramp up production levels, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

    John Zehler Jr., president of Virginia Fuels Inc., told the newspaper the supply situation in Virginia "is pretty bad, but not to where it is in Atlanta, with no stations within a couple of miles radius having any product."

    For motorists, the primary problem is locating stations that have fuel, Windy VanCuren, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, told the paper. "[Consumers] may be inconvenienced temporarily."

    Shortages in parts of Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and elsewhere were worsened by panic buying, VanCuren told the paper.

    The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported Hurricanes Gustav and Ike caused the greatest drop in U.S. gasoline inventories since 1967. The U.S. Department of Energy reported Wednesday five oil refineries with a total capacity of 1.23 million barrels-per-day remained closed since Ike shut 14 plants, representing a quarter of the nation’s refined fuel production, nearly two weeks ago.

    As each day passes, hope is on the horizon. San Antonio-based Valero Energy Corp. completed a restart of its 245,000 barrel-per-day Texas City refinery. While all main production units are operational, spokesman Bill Day told the San Antonio Express-News the plant is running "at somewhat reduced rates."

    Day noted Valero’s 130,000 barrel-per-day Houston refinery is continuing its restart process, while the company's Port Arthur refinery which can process 325,000 barrels of crude a day, is working on getting adequate supplies of fresh water before its restart process can begin.

    While production levels are increasing, consumer patience is running thin. Randy Bly, a spokesman for the AAA's Auto Club South Chapter, which represents Southeastern states, told Reuters motorists who are facing long lines are taking desperate measures in their quest for fuel.

    "Some people are even following tankers to the station and then they descend upon the station," Bly told Reuters.

    In Nashville, Tennessee, television reports showed people cutting in line and fighting at gasoline stations to fill up after a news report stated the Colonial Pipeline was running below normal capacity, Doria Gibbons, a nurse who lives in the city, told Reuters.

    Idling cars lined up for a quarter mile to buy gas priced near $5 per gallon, DeChanile Brooks, a mental health therapist who was in the area for a conference, told Reuters.

    In Charlotte, police are helping manage traffic—and tempers—at gas stations with long lines.

    "I know that tempers are flaring. We’re getting sporadic calls for arguments—more so arguments not necessarily fights at gas pumps—but we are asking for the public’s help to just be patient," Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Robert Fey told area television station WSOCTV.

    Police arrested a man on Wednesday night, after he allegedly cut into the line.

    "He was just trying to cut in front of somebody, the crowd got riled up, and he started to fight us," Officer Suzanne Norris told the television station.

    Meanwhile, the epicenter of the storm, Galveston, Texas, is experiencing post-Katrina horrors. This week, tens of thousands of residents returned to the devastation left by Hurricane Ike.

    City Manager Steve LeBlanc told The New York Times the majority of the city’s west side still does not have water or sewer service. While city officials feared the return of distraught residents, to date there has not been significant issues.

    "I think people are too busy to start problems," LeBlanc told the paper. "People want to just get to their house." He told the paper that 50,000 of the city’s approximately 60,000 residents evacuated for Hurricane Ike.

    Aiding in the recovery effort is the Army & Air Force Exchange Service that has moved a Mobile Field Exchange from Ellington Field, nearly 40 miles south, to Scholes International Airport in Galveston.

    "We moved the MFE on Saturday and opened the doors on Sunday, Sept. 21," said Fort Sam Houston PX’s General Manager Darryl Porter. "It’s been open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ever since, serving first responders, FEMA and Homeland Security personnel, active duty troops, law enforcement and military retirees rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Ike."

    Additional support was received Thursday from Shell and Motiva, which presented a $1 million donation to the Red Cross to support the organization’s hurricane relief efforts in Texas and Louisiana.

    "The Red Cross relies on the generous support of companies like Shell and Motiva, to meet the needs of those affected by this year's storms," Gail McGovern, president and chief executive officer of the American Red Cross, said in a statement. "This has been an active year of disasters, which has depleted the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. We are grateful for this gift, which will help provide disaster relief to residents throughout Texas and Louisiana."

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