Gasoline in short supply as motorists rush to the pumps before Frances hits

Sentinel Staff Writer

Shortages of gasoline that Central Florida motorists encountered Thursday may increase in the days ahead as barge deliveries to South Florida ports are interrupted by Hurricane Frances.

Some disruptions of supplies to the state's entry ports are unavoidable, said Jeremy Kemp, terminal manager in Ocoee for Florida Rock & Tank Lines Inc., which delivers gasoline statewide.

Kemp said deliveries were being made Thursday and that some will be completed today. After that, things will depend on the havoc wrought by Hurricane Frances.

"We'll be delivering as quick as we can," Kemp said.

Jim Smith, president of the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association in Tallahassee, said this week's tight supply is the result of two factors: heavy demand on Tuesday, the last day of the state's 8-cent gas-tax break, and the sharp spike in fill-ups as Frances approached.

"We were already somewhat behind the 8-ball because of Charley," Smith said. Deliveries were just catching up when demand again outstripped supplies, he said.

Randy Bly, director of community relations for AAA in Tampa, said motorists are encountering stations without gas along Interstates 4 and 75, major evacuation routes.

Gas supplies started shrinking drastically Wednesday and Thursday when many deliveries were diverted to emergency users like the Florida Highway Patrol, Smith said.

There is one positive note: Gas is waiting for delivery in the giant tanks at Port Everglades, Port of Miami and Port of Tampa, Smith said.

The oil companies won't drain those tanks because they want the weight of the gas to help the tanks withstand wind pressure, he said.

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