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By CINDY SIMPSON
Cars lined up and packed gas station and convenience store parking lots in Roane County Thursday evening and Friday morning.
Frantic drivers queued to fill up in fear of dwindling gas supplies due to the oncoming Hurricane Ike.
Gas prices often rose while drivers waited for their turns at the pump — if there was any gas at all.
“We’ve got only premium gas left,” Kingston Raceway operator Jay Patel said around noon on Friday.
“We’re completely out of regular and plus.
The lines started Thursday as news that Hurricane Ike’s landfall on the Texas coast would impact oil supply.
By Friday morning, many gas stations were out or running low on supply, not knowing for sure when their next shipments would come in.
“I don’t know when we’ll get our next supply,” Patel said.
He said he had heard from Raceway’s franchise that it would be between 24-48 hours.
Kingston Food City’s Gas-n-Go was closed by late Friday morning, presumably sold out. Management, however, would not discuss the situation, referring comment to Food City’s corporate offices in Virginia.
The sign at the Ladd Landing supermarket told the story. On Friday afternoon, the prices were blank, and nobody was at the office.
While the supply dwindles, prices continue to rise.
Patel said his prices depend on the franchise, who tells him what prices to set. Kingston Raceway gets an e-mail each morning, Patel said.
Prices around the county jumped all through Thursday afternoon and into late Friday.
Rocky Top on Kentucky Street in Kingston was charging $3.79 a gallon for regular gasoline on Thursday night, the price rising to $4.09 Friday morning.
By Friday afternoon the price was $4.59 for regular at Rocky Top.
Rocky Top Market President Steve Kirkham refused comment for this story.
“I don’t even speak to the press,” Kirkham said, referring to what he said he believes is past negative coverage involving him in the Roane County News.
Police at one point directed traffic at Murphy Oil in Rockwood on Thursday. Traffic clogged the entrance to the station and the adjoining Wal-Mart Supercenter. Gas held a steady $3.46 per gallon there until right after a new gas shipment arrived around dark.
The price rose by 20 cents at that point and escalated to $3.99 mid-afternoon Friday.
Raceway prices rose as well, from $3.61 a gallon for regular gasoline Thursday night to $3.74 Friday morning.
While customers waited for their turn in line, with Kingston police directing traffic to the popular station, the price rose again to $3.88.
The weekly price average rose this week, according to releases from East Tennessee AAA.
“The threat of Ike has shut down more than 77 percent of crude oil production in the U.S.,” the release stated.
Refineries shut down because the storm is supposed to hit “right in the middle of about 20 percent of the production capabilities of this country for gasoline,” explained Don Lindsey, AAA director of public affairs of East Tennessee.
“There is a reduction in supply, and there is a resulting increase in cost,” Lindsey said.
He added that the emotional response to fill up at the tanks is contributing to the rise in cost.
“If we panic buy — if we go up and fill up our tanks — we’re going to create a problem we tried to avoid,” Lindsey said.
“We can help the situation by maintaining our normal buying pattern,” he continued.
Lindsey said there would likely be some problems with supply at least through September, but he doesn’t believe it is a need to panic.
“We’re going to have some inconvenience, and it is a good likelihood we’ll have higher prices,” he said. “There will probably be a very wide disparity in prices because of the differ-ent ways companies buy the gasoline.”
Price gouging is a concern for customers during times like these, but Lindsey said he doesn’t believe it is a big problem.
He said there probably is some gouging, but the number of stores actually doing it would be small.
“Most of the people that are in this for the long run, they’re interested in keeping their customers,” Lindsey said. “They’re going to look at serving the customers right to keep them.”
State officials are doing what they can to ensure availability in the state.
According to a release from Gov. Phil Bredesen’s office, he has received a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency “to help ensure an adequate supply of gasoline is available in Tennessee.”
The waiver was requested by Bredesen on Sept. 5 “to help minimize price increases and ensure an adequate supply of gasoline is available in the wake of Hurricane Gustav.”