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Stations rationing gas as panic buying sets in, supplies run low

Area drivers who need to fill up their tanks this holiday weekend may find their usual station is running short on gas. Even as prices have shot up, local gas supplies have dropped.

By Friday, many stations were running low or completely out of regular unleaded gas. Several stations are now limiting the amount of gas they sell each customer.

"I've decided to limit it to $30 worth of gas per customer," Buddy McBride of McBride's Chevron said on Friday. "With the strain of the refineries being down, we are going to limit gas until next week when more supplies are released."

According to local service station owners, exactly when, and in what quantities, new supplies of gas will arrive in town is uncertain.

At mid-morning on Friday, Lisa Bush of Bush's Country Store on the Pine Apple Highway said her business had some 800 gallons of fuel left in its pumps, after being refilled on Thursday.

"We got 1,300 gallons in yesterday – which was all I could afford – and we just hope this 800 will take us through the day," Bush said.

Bush said she had "no idea" when further gas supplies would reach the store.

At Duke's Shell at 400 W. Commerce St., Sally Duke said their station still had premium-grade fuel, but was out of other grades.

"We tell people we cannot guarantee when we will get more in because our suppliers can't guarantee us. We are waiting to hear from our suppliers," Duke said.

At Bates Texaco, on old Fort Dale Road, Jane Dent expressed hope that more gas would be on its way Saturday morning.

"We figure if people need it, they need it, and we will sell it until it runs out. Some people are so anxious to get home."

According to Dent, people from as far away as Nashville and Atlanta have been calling the Greenville station this week to check on the availability of gasoline.

"We have also had folks coming up from Mobile with gas cans, filling them up. When they do get any gas in down that way, it's gone almost right away. People are desperate for it," she said.

One of those "desperate for it" was Randy Brock of Gulfport, Miss. Brock filled up several gas cans during a stop at the Fort Dale Road BP Station Friday morning.

"There's nothing left (in Gulfport). It's like a war zone. I'm about to head back to Atlanta, shuttling supplies to my neighbors who are over there. And we need gas," Brock said.

While representatives of Middleton Oil and Sterling Oil of Greenville were unable for comment, Charles Newton of Newton Oil Company believes he knows the main reason behind the sudden gas shortage.

"We are seeing an abnormal demand for gas right now, and that isn't so unusual after a big storm," Newton said.

"People start to panic a bit. We have local people who are filling up every vehicle they own, whether they drive them or not," he said.

Those who are returning to storm-stricken destinations are also a factor, Newton says.

"We've got folks who want to go south to check on things. They're afraid they won't be able to find any gas down there, so they are filling up lots of gas cans. It puts a strain on the local stations," Newton explained.

The current instability seen in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast in the wake of Katrina is creating a "wait and see" situation for oil companies like Newton's.

"I hope and believe, less than a week from now, things will have leveled off, and we will know what to expect in terms of oil production," Newton said. "My understanding is the pipelines are back in

partial production already, and that should only improve."

Newton said the Montgomery companies that supply gas to Newton Oil have already placed restrictions on the amount of fuel they can obtain.

Still, he believes there is no cause for alarm.

"I don't think people should panic. I do believe the situation will be better in a week's time or less," Newton said.