As If life isn’t tough enough for evacuees trying to get out of Hurricane Matthew’s path, the state says there are some businesses reportedly preying on people by jacking up the price for gas, hotels and supplies. It’s against the law in a state of emergency.
A Lakeland Citgo had a couple of complaints for price gouging. Customers say the price at the pump just jumped 17 cents. Nick and Moe’s manager tells 10News that the station is actually charging two cents less than what it's costing them, and the price is still cheaper than the $2.19 state average.
Other customers are finding higher price hikes because of the hurricane, or no gas at all.
“There are many places out of gas already,” says Lori McGowan from Vero Beach.
McGowan gassed up at the Plant City Wawa and is thankful to see a tanker topping off the supply. Her family and pets left Vero Beach behind for Tampa as Hurricane Matthew headed right for their home.
“Between 100 and 112 miles an hour sustained winds, that's pretty scary. I hope we have a home when we get back,” said husband Matt McGowan.
“I-4 is horrible,” said Kit Trung of the trek from Brevard County. He endured a slow drive in heavy traffic, making two trips to the Bay area to move his RVs, his business, out of Matthew's path.
“You’ve got to get gas when you can,” said Trung. He found diesel at Race Trac in Lakeland, but regular gas is empty.
“Could be 10 cents less, but it's normal. I'm not seeing $3.00 or $3.50, so I’m very surprised they've not gouged yet. I'm glad,” Trung said.
Facebook user Tamilyn Nicole Citrone posted that price gouging is happening in Port St. Lucie with $2.59 at one station and another nearby station at the more conventional $2.04.
“It’s very bad, because everyone needs gas,” said Coastal Mart owner Binkesh Patel.
Patel wishes he could help locals and evacuees fill up. His Lakeland store ran out of gas Wednesday night and he was told his Orlando supplier is closed until Monday.
“We don't know when we're going to get the gas now,” said Patel.
AAA says the gas supply is not the problem, it's transportation and access.
AAA spokesperson Mark Jenkins: “Florida's gasoline is delivered via waterborne tanker ships.These shipments mostly come from refineries along the Gulf Coast: Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.The state's east coast also receives occasional shipments from Canada, the New York Harbor, and Europe. These shipments are delivered to Florida's ports, stored in massive tanks, loaded onto trucks, and driven to a gas station near you.
The problem right now along the east coast is most ports are temporarily closed due to the storm and may not reopen until Monday. Upon reopening, and assuming there are no issues with electricity at the port, trucks could access whatever supply is at the port. Barges could also sail in and deliver the fuel, which would then be driven to nearby gas stations within hours.
Until that time, east coast gas stations may have to rely on truck deliveries from other regions like Tampa and Fort Lauderdale. The largest storage capacity of gasoline in the state is found at the Tampa and Everglades ports. Gasoline is also sent via pipeline from Tampa to Orlando. So any shortages in the Central Florida region should be quickly remedied.
Getting gasoline into the trucks is one thing. Getting fuel to the gas stations could be another. Depending on the storm's aftermath, there could be flooding, debris, downed power lines, or any other road hazard that could prevent trucks from getting through. Another concern is electricity. If gas stations are left without power and do not have a backup supply, the pumps won't work.”
The Florida Attorney General’s Office said that as of late Thursday it had received roughly 1,800 complaints of gouging, shown below. It has set up a Price Gouging Hotline at 1-866-966-7226. You may also report violations online at http://myfloridalegal.com.
For mobile users: To view spreadsheet of price gouging complaints, click here.