TAMPA, Fla. – The storm might be over, but the race to refill area gas stations in the wake of Hurricane Irma has only begun.
Roughly 56 percent of gas stations — about 1,200 — in the Tampa Bay area are without fuel, according to estimates Monday from GasBuddy.com analyst Patrick DeHaan. That number is near 60 percent in the Miami area.
Of the people who ventured out of their homes on Monday, if they weren't looking to fill their stomachs with a hot meal, they were looking to fill up their vehicles, 10News found.
And the pickings were slim.
A Mobil station at Hillsborough and North Central avenues in Tampa opened for just a few hours to sell gas, creating long lines and traffic jams as people waited to get to a pump.
One couple who was waiting in line showed 10News reporter Josh Sidorowicz their vehicle's gas needle on 'empty' while their vehicle's instrument panel readout said '0 miles to E.'
"We needed it badly," they said, after driving around to several gas stations.
Others waiting in line expressed relief in knowing they'd found a place to fill up.
“I got less than a quarter. But I’m just really glad to be here," said one man.
But the feeling was fleeting for many others as supplies quickly dried up and tensions tightened. Several police officers were on hand directing traffic and working to keep the peace.
Filling up for Tampa Bay drivers could be filled with challenges for at least the next day or two, said GasBuddy.com analyst Pat DeHaan.
The key, DeHaan says, is getting Florida's ports reopened to allow more shipments of gas to arrive.The state is largely reliant on tankers for fuel supply.
Hurricane Irma forced the closure of most of Florida's ports, including the state's largest: Port Tampa Bay.
"There's no fuel if there's no ports," DeHaan said.
Port officials say with just "minimal damage and flooding" from the storm they expect the U.S. Coast Guard to reopen Port Tampa Bay sometime Tuesday afternoon. A U.S Coast Guard official would not commit to a re-opening time.
The U.S. Coast Guard, port personnel, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to resume scanning the 40-mile channel Tuesday morning to make sure it is clear.
Four petroleum vessels are expected to bring fuel into Port Tampa Bay when it reopens, the port official said.
"The port is operating and ready for business," Port Tampa Bay President Paul Anderson said in a statement.
On Monday, dozens of tanker trucks loaded with fuel stored at the port were seen leaving to make deliveries to stations across the area.
Once the port reopens, DeHaan says he expects it would take another day or two before supplies return to normal level but cautioned any shortages could be further strained if many of the state's evacuees rush to get back at once.
“Hopefully motorists will be patient, that’s really key," DeHaan said. "Any gasoline consumption is going to drain what little there is, so I would strongly urge people to only drive when truly necessary.”
Power restoration remains the other major logistical challenge in the way of restoring Florida's gas shortages.
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