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SANFORD, N.C – As Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast, The Pantry, Inc. asked its customers to do their best to restrict discretionary driving over the next week.
"The gulf coast of the United States is absorbing one of the worst hurricanes in the history of this country. Unfortunately, the majority of gasoline supply for the Southeastern sector emanates from these storm-affected states," the Sanford, N.C-based company said in a statement.
The entire nation was expected to feel the brunt of the powerful storm as roughly 30 percent of the oil and gas consumed in the United States flows along pipelines or is hauled in on tankers and barges in the Gulf Coast, the Associated Press reported.
The hurricane sent crude oil prices surging to record highs following the closure of refineries and evacuation of off-shore rigs in the oil-rich Gulf, according to media reports.
Chevron and Exxon Mobil shut their offshore oil and gas production and evacuated staff as Hurricane Katrina approached. Valero Energy and Chevron shut down refineries, and the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port closed its onshore pipeline.
Experts said a major hit would disrupt fuel shipments and send prices soaring even higher right before Labor Day, when more than 34 million Americans are projected to hit the road.
The impact was immediate Sunday night on the New York Mercantile Exchange, as crude oil futures spiked $4.50 per barrel, putting the cost above $70 for the first time since oil began trading there in 1983. Every additional $1 per barrel translates into more than 2 cents in the price of a gallon of gasoline. Gas prices already are up an average 83 cents a gallon this year.