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Gas shortages spread north with Irma as Florida struggles to refuel

1 in 3 Charleston, SC stations are dry

As Florida struggles to resupply gas stations drained by Hurricane Irma evacuees, a growing number of stations in Georgia and South Carolina are running out of fuel as the storm moves north.

In Thomasville, a Georgia city just north of the Florida panhandle, more than a quarter of gas stations were empty at 6:30 p.m. Monday, according to Gas Buddy's fuel-availability tracker. To the east, along I-95, one in three stations in Savannah were dry.

Heading north, in Charleston, which has experienced record flooding from Irma's storm surge, roughly 13 percent of the stations were without gas.

In the days before and just after Hurricane Irma came ashore in the Florida Keys over the weekend, demand by people fleeing the storm drained at least 60 percent of the gas stations in Miami-Fort Lauderdale and Gainesville. On Monday, roughly half the stations in Jacksonville, Tampa, West Palm Beach and Fort Myers were empty.

Those numbers have been slow to improve, and in Gainesville and Jacksonville, they have gotten worse. As of 6:30 p.m. Monday, nearly 70 percent of Gainesville stations were empty, up four percent since that morning, while 56 percent were dry in Jacksonville.

Shortages are expected to continue until Florida's ports, which feed the state's demand for gas, are reopened and able to receive shipments. That's not likely to happen until at least Tuesday, according to a research report by Goldman Sachs.

"Since much of Florida’s gasoline delivery occurs via barge, all eyes will remain on port conditions as the storm passes," said Jeanette Casselano, a spokesperson for AAA, adding that power outages, impassable roads and debris are hindering efforts to refuel Florida stations.

To ease the supply crunch, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has waived restrictions to allow foreign vessels to bring in fuel, as well as expanding the types of fuel allowed to be sold in Florida.

Irma is not classified as tropical depression and is expected to bring heavy rains as far north as North Carolina on Tuesday.

Unlike Hurricane Harvey, which shut down a dozen refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas, causing gas prices to skyrocket around the country, Irma has had little impact on prices. The average price for a gallon of unleaded was $2.65 at mid-morning Tuesday, about the same as a week ago.

Not surprisingly, the biggest increases were Florida and Georgia, which saw the per-gallon price rise 7 cents over the week -- to $2.70 in Florida and $2.71 in Georgia. A half dozen states -- Ohio, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Delaware and Oklahoma --  saw gas prices drop by one to six cents.

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