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Southeast drivers still scrambling to find gas

More than a week after Hurricane Ike's strike, drivers across the Southeast are still bouncing between dry pumps and shuttered stations in a frustrating hunt for a fill-up — and they're starting to get angry.

There are stations shut down in Nashville, Tenn., long lines in Atlanta and even fights breaking out in bucolic Blue Ridge mountain towns. In between the soccer moms and NASCAR dads, you'll even find guys who play in the NFL waiting for gas.

North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley said today he is working with the major oil companies to seek the release of additional gasoline for western North Carolina.

"This is a temporary shortage," Easley said in a statement. "We have been assured by the oil companies that some supplies are on their way today, and larger additional supplies are expected through the pipeline very soon."

For the next few days, Easley said, consumers should take steps to conserve gasoline, such as carpooling and eliminating unnecessary trips.

“It's really ridiculous. You would have thought by now — four days into it — they would have sorted it out somehow,” Ahmard Hall, 28, a fullback with the Tennessee Titans, said Tuesday morning as he waited in a Nashville suburb for his turn at the pump. “You have to go driving around town, wasting gas, to try to find gas.”

Hurricane Ike shut down or reduced work at more than a dozen refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas, an area that accounts for about 20 percent of the nation's gas and diesel production. Among those affected was Exxon Mobil Corp.'s refinery in Baytown, east of Houston, and the nation's largest.

It won't get better until the Gulf Coast refineries disrupted by Ike — and before that, Hurricane Gustav — boot up and start filling the empty pipelines that lead to thirsty stations. In the meantime, gas station owners are selling whatever shows up from their suppliers — be it regular, premium or super unleaded.

“Some days are better than others. You take what you can get,” said Haddon Clark, the vice president at Raleigh-based United Energy, which operates about 75 gas stations in the eastern portion of North Carolina. “We're forced to sell what we can find.”

The line was about 40 cars deep Tuesday afternoon at a 20-pump Quik Trip station just north of Atlanta. It was the only spot in the area with gas to sell, and police said they have been called in often to referee spats over cutting in line. The station only had regular for $3.98 a gallon — a few cents under the city average of $4.02.

At Clark's stores in North Carolina, most are selling only regular unleaded — although at any given time, he said, several don't have any gas at all. And without the gas, store owners who count on sales of sodas and snacks to make up for the thin margins on fuel sales are feeling the pinch.

“When someone stops for gas, usually they come in and get something in the store,” said Michael Peters, the manager of a BP station in Raleigh. “Now, they drive up and see (gas) is out, and they keep going.”

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