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Authorities say tempers flaring over gas shortage
Cars line up at the BP gas station Sunday on Thompson Bridge Road. The lack of fuel supplies have given some motorists short tempers. - photo by Tom Reed

As the gas shortage brought on by Hurricanes Ike and Gustav stretches on in Gainesville and metro Atlanta, it seems some people may be getting a little testy.

Over the weekend, the Hall County Sheriff’s Office answered about 12 calls to different gas stations concerning disputes over gas, sheriff’s Col. Jeff Strickland said Sunday afternoon. He said none of the calls resulted in arrests, and many concerned disputes over breaking in line. And those lines of cars waiting to fuel up are causing problems, too.

If you’re looking for gas, it’s easy to figure out which stations have gasoline — the ones with the long lines. Strickland said deputies answered calls all weekend about lines of cars spilling out into the roadway and causing traffic problems.

"We would urge anyone who is in line for fuel to try to get their vehicle into the parking lot of the store, and do not block traffic," Strickland said.

Around 2 p.m. Sunday, Chevron on Hog Mountain Road in Flowery Branch was among the stations with lines of cars waiting for fuel.

"When we do have gas, we get pretty busy," said Lynn Perry of Flowery Branch, an employee at the store. "… We just got gas, and we’re really busy. We’ll probably be out in about two hours."

Gainesville police Lt. Brian Kelly said the city hasn’t been experiencing any problems in recent days related to the gas shortage.

Not only is the shortage of fuel causing people to scramble to any station that has gasoline and get into arguments while waiting in line, some say the shortage is being made worse by panic buying or topping off.

"I think that’s part of the problem, is people topping off," said Randy Bly, spokesman for AAA Auto Club South, which serves Georgia, Florida and parts of Tennessee. "A lot of (the problem) is consumer-induced by gasoline panic buying. … People only down a gallon or two are going every day and getting gas when they don’t need it."

Maureen Linehan of Flowery Branch admitted Sunday that she was among those topping off her tank.

"Right now, I’m just topping off. It’s my husband’s vehicle. He commutes to Atlanta every day," she said. "When you can only get $15 worth of gas right now, you come every day."

Linehan added that she has changed her own driving habits "somewhat," since the gasoline shortage started.

Tracey Hall’s driving habits have changed, too, partially due to the limits some gas stations are putting on fuel purchases.

"I do a lot less driving," said Hall, who lives in Flowery Branch. "The gas stations will have a maximum limit, so I’m low on gas."

Charlotte Keifer of Flowery Branch said Sunday it was vital that she get gas.

"I couldn’t go to the office tomorrow if I didn’t get gas today," she said.

While many may be running low, officials say they aren’t seeing an increase in motorists running out of gas.

Strickland said that while deputies usually do aid motorists who have run out of gas, he wasn’t aware of any calls for that service in recent days. Kelly said Gainesville police officers hadn’t received any calls from motorists out of gas, either.

Helping stranded motorists is something often handled by AAA, but even that organization has had to change how the service is provided in the metro Atlanta area.

Instead of being able to simply take a gallon or so of gas to a motorist who has run out, AAA now has to tow motorists in metro Atlanta, Bly said.

"We’re, like everyone, having difficulty in getting gas," Bly said. "We’re just trying to keep our trucks fueled."

He explained that motorists out of gas will be towed either to a nearby gas station – one with fuel, of course – or to their home. Like local authorities, Bly said AAA hasn’t noticed any significant increase in calls from motorists running out of gas.

But when will relief come? A week or more? That may still be uncertain.

Gov. Sonny Perdue’s office indicated Friday that some Houston refineries still are without power. Once power is restored, there is a startup operation and a production time that requires days. Once the oil is refined into gasoline, the transportation in the pipeline requires six days from the Houston area. Perdue’s office said about half of the refineries are "back to normal" while the other half are at varying stages of returning to normal production.

"Things are going to get better, it’s just a very, very slow process," Bly said.

Strickland said the sheriff’s department continues to keep an eye on its gas usage, though the department’s suppliers indicated relief is coming, telling the sheriff’s office to "expect some improvements."

Bly said motorists dealing with the gasoline shortages should see it as another reason to practice smart driving and conserve fuel.

"It’s something we need to try to conserve on a daily basis," he said.

In particular, Bly said motorists should avoid driving aggressively, which includes driving over the speed limit and making quick starts and stops.

"Those habits are horribly wasteful, and it actually puts an unnecessary demand on gas that we don’t need, driving up gasoline prices," Bly said.

The Times’ news clerk Megan Gill contributed to this story.

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