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Panic at the pumps

Locals flock to gas stations in fear of shortage

Cars and trucks wait in line at the Diamond store on S. Main. around 4 p.m. Monday

News Staff Writer

Fueled by concerns over the recent shutdowns of the Colonial Pipeline and Pensacola, Fla.’s Trans Montaigne gas terminal, local motorists — and dozens from the Florida Panhandle — flocked to Atmore gas stations Monday, May 10, filling trucks and cars and filling gas cans in fear of outages.
Lines several blocks long formed at most stations in Atmore as individuals wrestled their way into line to grab the seemingly scarce commodity.
“There were lines and lines, up and down (U.S.) 31 and Medical Park Drive,” said Jennifer Otto, a clerk at the Diamond Gasoline store at the intersection of the two thoroughfares, around 9 p.m. “We all earned our money today. I came in at 5, and my boss said it had been crazy all day.”
Aaron Blanton, who works at the Diamond Gas station on South Main, said he had never seen anything like he saw Monday.
“It’s insane, worse than when we had the hurricanes,” he said. “There’s probably going to be a shortage now because of all these people freaking out.”
April Gertsen, a clerk at the same store, echoed those sentiments.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “Traffic was all the way back to Chen’s (Chinese Buffet, about a block from the store) and all along Main Street. People were parking on the sidewalks; it was just unreal.”
Atmore Police Chief Chuck Brooks said city police encountered only minor problems from the onslaught of gas customers.
“We had some minor traffic-related issues, people parking in the roadways and things like that,” he said. “Those were quickly resolved, and around 7:30 (p.m.) it began to subside.”
Otto said not all was peaceful as people jockeyed for position at the pumps. She equated the chaos to one of the biggest problems created by the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A couple of fights broke out in parking lot when people cut in front of others,” she said. “It’s like the toilet paper thing all over again.”
Roy White, president of Diamond Gas, agreed that shortage that appears in the near future would be created by Monday’s influx of scared motorists. Diamond Gas owns and operates five convenience store gas stations in and around Atmore.
“Currently, there’s no shortage; it’s being created by the panic,” said White, who noted that the Colonial and Trans Montaigne shutdowns were the primary cause of the panic. “A couple things triggered this — the news media talking about the pipeline, and a lot of what triggered it is the Pensacola terminal was down last week.”
Trans Montaigne was forced to shut down due to EPA violations. Neither officials of the terminal nor officials of Colonial Pipeline could predict how long the outages would last, although a Colonial spokesman said the company hoped to have the pipeline back up “by the end of the week.”
“This had nothing to do with a shortage, nothing to do with the pipeline,” White said. “Most of the stations in Pensacola, Milton and that area that were supplied by (the Pensacola terminal) ran out, and the Florida folks started coming over the line to get gas in Atmore, and people saw that.”
He agreed that a shortage is now imminent, mainly due to the panic-buying on Monday.
“There’s going be a shortage here in a little bit because everybody’s done bought everything,” he said. “The pipeline thing is going to affect some things — we don’t know just how long it’s going be down — but there’s no need for panic right now.”
Two local stations, Express Mart 7 on West Nashville and Speedy’s on East Nashville, ran out of gas Monday, and one local station, Spudd’s, on Ala. 21, raised its pump prices by 20 cents in response to expected shortages.