Gas stations along the Eastern Seaboard experienced high demand and some sold out of fuel Friday as Hurricane Irene bore down.
In Norfolk, Va., one Exxon station was sold out by noon after hundreds of cars filled up to evacuate the mid-Atlantic city. The windows were boarded up as station attendants readied themselves for the brutal fury of the storm. The hurricane is expected to make landfall in nearby Virginia Beach on Saturday evening, according to The New York Times hurricane tracker.
Late morning Friday, further up the coast in Dover, Del., a gas station worker at Dover Super Soda and Deli answered the phone just to say he was too busy to answer the phone. That was repeated by an employee who answered the phone at the Sunset Service Station in Ocean City, N.J., as people along the Jersey Shore prepared to evacuate.
Moving north along the storm's expected path to Brick, N.J., gas was selling briskly at $3.42 a gallon. Exxon station owner George Dakart said he expected to sell out during the afternoon, and a delivery of fuel was not expected to last through Saturday. Most drivers, he said, were preparing for the storm rather than evacuating. The scarcest items were batteries, he said.
"You cannot find any D batteries in Ocean County!" he said.
On Long Island, where the storm is expected to hit squarely some time Sunday, gas stations were doing brisk business, although there was a carnival-like mood in the air. Sadik Can, the gas station attendant at the Empire Service Station in East Hampton, N.Y., said he had pumped "thousands of tanks" -- at $3.91 a gallon -- but as soon as the storm hit, he was going "to go and party."
He's not alone. The Atlantic Wine & Liquor Store in neighboring Amagansett was doing brisk business Thursday and Friday.
"I don't know what it is about hurricanes, but [people] are stocking up," said owner Paul Tavernier. "Patrón [tequila] is flying off the shelves." He recalls other big storms that hit the island, including the "perfect storm" (on which the book and movie were based) in 1997, which was the only time he shuttered his booze shop. He said he didn't expect to have to evacuate, but "if the eye of the storm hits, we're going to get hammered" referring to the wind and rain, not the tequila and wine.
By the time Irene arrives in Bridgeport, Conn., on Sunday, it will likely have slackened to tropical storm status. A Mobil station we contacted there was not experiencing an uptick in traffic.
Refineries in the storm-affected states along the East Coast were expected to ramp down production as a precautionary measure, said Tom Kloza, editorial director at the Oil Price Information Service. Thursday's small 3% tick upward in wholesale gas prices, he says, is likely due to a combination of factors, including West Coast prices and speculation about the hurricane.
Kloza said he didn't expect the storm to dramatically affect gas prices. "We may be paying a little more next weekend," Kloza said. "But by second half of September, we will see more reasonable prices. It has been expensive year for fuel."
"The thing that is more certain is that hurricanes are demand destroyers," Kloza added. "It is almost certain that see demand destroyed because people won't be driving as much."
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