With Power Out, Many Florida Gas Stations Remain Closed | KERA News

With Power Out, Many Florida Gas Stations Remain Closed

Sep 12, 2017
Originally published on September 12, 2017 5:43 pm

Now that Hurricane Irma has left Florida, gasoline supplies are slowly coming back into the state. But thousands of gas stations remain closed anyway.

That's because with electricity out throughout the peninsula, even stations that have access to gas have no way to get it into people's vehicles.

"Power is the issue. Most of these gas stations don't have backup generation that can allow the pumps to work," says John Kilduff, founding partner of Again Capital, an energy investment firm.

About 40 percent of gas stations remained closed in Florida, and the number was as high as 65 percent in some places, says Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at the crowdsourcing website Gasbuddy.com.

A lot of stations ran out of fuel last week as millions of Floridians began to evacuate in anticipation of the storm and rushed to fill their tanks. Many of those who remained behind also bought gas just to be on the safe side.

Although the storm is gone, many of those stations are still closed, says Tampa resident Matthew Kemp, who has been tracking fuel supplies on a smartphone app.

"People are posting, desperately in some cases, 'Is anything open? Is anything open?' One person ... said she had basically driven all around south Tampa today and every single establishment that is a chain was closed," said Kemp, who owns a small Internet marketing company.

A lot of people who left the state in anticipation of Irma want to come home but are worried they won't find fuel along the way, he says.

"They feel paralyzed, and they cannot return from their evacuation, because no one wants to get in their car and go south on I-95 or south on I-75 and make it 300 miles [and] run out of gas on the side of the road," he says.

After Superstorm Sandy, New York and New Jersey began requiring gas stations to have backup generators, but Florida has no such law, Kilduff says.

As a result, stations have to wait for utility crews to restore electricity, he says.

At a 7-Eleven near Fort Myers, plastic bags covered the gasoline tanks to indicate no fuel was available.

Andrew Haltunnen had driven around searching for gasoline without any luck, so he was standing outside the store siphoning gas from his father's car.

"I'm trying to get to Miami, and Alligator Alley's a long stretch," he said, referring to the interstate highway that crosses the Everglades. "I looked on the app, went to many stations. All out. No power in this area."

Devan Rios, who stopped at the store to buy snacks for his son, said he had passed as many as 50 closed stations on the way south from Tampa.

"It's crazy. I mean, obviously, a hurricane just passed, so it's understandable," he said. "But we're not used to this."

Anyone who can do so should probably just stay home, he noted.

"I recommend just stay inside your house and don't even bother looking, 'cause there's nothing around here."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The lack of electricity in a lot of Florida is one reason that people who want to return to their homes are stuck. They're having trouble finding gasoline to make the drive home. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: When Irma looked like it was aiming for Tampa, Matthew Kemp and his family evacuated to central Florida. Driving home yesterday, he says virtually every gas station he passed was closed. Now he uses an app on his smartphone to find places to fill up his tank. And Kemp says it's not looking good.

MATTHEW KEMP: People are, you know, posting desperately in some cases, you know, is anything open? Is anything open? One person replied and said she had basically driven all around south Tampa today, and every single establishment that is a chain was closed.

ZARROLI: Kemp says a lot of people fled to Georgia or South Carolina to escape the storm. Now they want to come home, he says, and they can't.

KEMP: They feel paralyzed. And they cannot return from their evacuation because no one wants to get in their car and go south on I-95 or south on I-75 and make it 300 miles, run out of gas on the side of the road.

ZARROLI: Irma may be gone, but Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at the website GasBuddy, says thousands of gas stations remain closed.

PATRICK DEHAAN: Fort Myers, Naples, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, Tallahassee, Tampa - all of those areas are seeing outages over 40 percent and in some cases as high as 65 percent.

ZARROLI: Because Irma's struck such a large area, an unusual number of people evacuated. And too many of them rushed to fill up their tanks at the same time. John Kilduff off of Again Capital says a shortage of supply is one reason that so many stations remain closed.

JOHN KILDUFF: But also, power is the issue. And most of these gas stations don't have backup generation that can allow the pumps to work.

ZARROLI: Patrick DeHaan of GasBuddies says utility companies trying to get power back on are having trouble keeping up.

DEHAAN: Motorists are coming back. The storm has moved on. And that's the problem - is motorists really can move, you know, in this case quicker than utility crews restoring vital services.

ZARROLI: So for now, people are making do any way they can. There's no gas available at a 7-Eleven in Fort Myers, and plastic wrap is placed over the gas tanks. Andrew Haltunnen tried to buy gas with no luck. So he ended up calling his father, and now he's siphoning gas from his car. He wants to take I-75 across the state.

ANDREW HALTUNNEN: I'm trying to get to Miami, and Alligator Alley is a long stretch. Looked on the app, went to many stations - all out - all no power in this area.

ZARROLI: Nearby, Devan Rios has stopped to buy snacks for his son. Coming from Tampa, he says he'd passed about 50 closed gas stations.

DEVAN RIOS: It's crazy. Obviously a hurricane just passed. It's understandable, but I mean we're not used to this.

ZARROLI: The good news is that gasoline is coming back into the state. And as ports re-open, supplies should gradually return to normal. But as long as power remains out in so many places, a lot of stations will remain closed anyway. Jim Zarroli, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.