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    Ike Brings Empty Pumps from North to South

    From the Gulf to the Great Lakes, supply disruptions cause short fuel supply, price hikes and allegations of gouging.

    GALVESTON, Texas – Over the weekend, Hurricane Ike made landfall here and ripped northward through Texas toward Chicago, leaving in its wake not only damaged homes and buildings, but also crushing the fuel supply at many gas retailers along its path and stretching north to Illinois.

    On Sunday afternoon, delayed shipments from the Gulf of Mexico caused a number of gas stations in Maryland, including a Sheetz location, to run out of fuel, the Frederick News-Post reported.

    Monica Jones, a Sheetz spokeswoman, told the paper the company was working on getting fuel shipments, but was not sure when they would be able to replenish their supplies.

    "It's really anybody's guess," she said. "We're just waiting to see what happens."

    Additionally, four Sheetz locations in the Roanoke Valley of Virginia ran out of gas Friday, received fuel that night, but ran dry again Saturday morning, Jones told the Roanoke Times. The chain was not imposing purchase limits, as others in the area were, but quick sales were responsible for the shortage, caused by customers concerned about uncertain supplies. Those Sheetz stations sold a normal day’s volume in only three to four hours, she told the paper.

    The Nashville, Tenn., area was also affected by Hurricane Ike, as consumers filled their tanks ahead of the storm, leaving gas retailers’ tanks empty, local television station WTVF reported. Most of the gas in middle Tennessee is supplied by refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the report. For those gas stations without fuel, many were placed on waiting lists by distributors that were trying to cope with high demand, the report stated.

    The situation was no better in neighboring Kentucky, where tanks were emptied of gas selling for $4 per gallon, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. The Shell station on Nicholasville Rd. in Lexington saw its cash registers and gas pumps fail as its central office in Houston was hit by Hurricane Ike, according to the report.

    "We're working to get our systems back up," store manager David Bryan told the paper Saturday afternoon. Two other Shell stations in the area were also afflicted with the same problems, while several Shell stations in Jackson, Miss., also reported the same troubles, according to local television station WLBT.
    Elsewhere in Kentucky, consumer panic caused dry pumps. A refinery that supplies gas to many Speedway stations in the area was shut down, and as a result, stations saw shortages, company spokeswoman, Angela Graves, told the station.

    At some other gas retailers, grades of fuel were sold out. "I have no premium gas," Jason Lewis, assistant manager of the Winchester Road Shell Station told the paper. "Seven-hundred thirteen people came through this store in nine hours."

    In St. Louis, the Post-Dispatch reported Hurricane Ike brought a fuel shortage caused by the shutdown of a 1,400-mile gas pipeline system that travels from Texas to Tulsa and serves much of the Midwest. At least 18 QuikTrip stations in the St. Louis area -- about one-quarter of the area’s 71 QuikTrip stores -- ran out of fuel Saturday, according to QuikTrip spokesman Mike Thornbrugh.

    The approximate arrival of new supplies was unclear over the weekend. "There's just too much uncertainty out there," Thornbrugh told the paper.

    The supply problems also hit Georgia, where at least three gas retailers in the Albany area ran out of fuel over the weekend, local television station WALB reported, noting the stations may not be able to get fuel until sometime today.

    Where stations did not run out of fuel, prices rose, and as a result, claims of price gouging by attorneys general and consumers ran rampant. C-store retailers retaliated, claiming no instances of gouging.

    Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum stated his office would send subpoenas to four gas retailers’ headquarters, accusing them of price-gouging during Hurricane Ike at stations in the state, Bay News 9 reported.

    "The Dodges station, Valero, Flying J and Pilot," McCollum said. "Those seem to be the ones where most of the price increases have been in." He added: "We want to find out what was their rationale for increasing.”

    Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper told the Morganton News Herald subpoenas were expected to be mailed over the weekend to determine if some stations in the state are price gouging.
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    "Any station or any wholesaler that's trying to take advantage of this situation and is gouging consumers will face the music from our office," Cooper said in an interview with WRAL-TV in Raleigh.

    One station in the state, the Pure Mart in Charlotte, N.C., was charging $5.39 per gallon on Saturday, reported local television station WSOCTV. The owner of the station said the price was caused by the wholesale price charged by his supplier -- $5.31 a gallon.

    Gas retailers are crying fowl at the gouging allegations, stating it is the wholesale cost, not a chance for profits, that is driving their prices upwards of $4 per gallon in some areas.

    "I think we've become unfairly targeted," Sukh Baines, owner of the River Road Chevron Station in Louisville, Ky., told local television station WLKY. His price for regular gas was $4.05 on Friday.

    "Prices have jumped almost 60, 70 cents a gallon," he said of the wholesale cost his supplier began charging him overnight. "The gas station owners are just at the mercy of our distributors and our suppliers for our branded gasoline."

    At the BP station on Blankenbaker Parkway in Louisville, regular unleaded was selling for $4.21 a gallon Friday, according to local television station WAVE. Storeowner Rick Pippin explained it was a combination of Hurricane Ike and credit card fees that caused the high prices.

    "The public perceives us as the culprit. The gasoline, as a commodity, is $3.69 a gallon, but you have taxes you add to the $3.69 a gallon, which makes our ultimate cost $4.11," he said, explaining he is charging 10 cents more for gas than what he bought it for from his supplier.

    "Ten cents a gallon, and considering the credit card fees coming off of that, we are down to making pennies a gallon," said Pippin.

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