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Shortage Fuels Driver Panic, Gas Supply Rationing

The supply of gas reaching western North Carolina is down 20 to 50- percent right now, according to government officials and fuel industry authorities. But for drivers in desperate search of a station still selling fuel, the supply seems far less. The Stop and Go on Graham Street in Charlotte was completely out of gas until a shipment arrived last night. But manager Jakson Tannous says it was half the usual amount. Lines of anxious drivers formed immediately and he knew the gas wouldn't last long, so Tannous started limiting purchases to 25-dollars. "They want more, we won't give it more," says Tannous, ringing up a sale. Barbara Smith drove around for 45 minutes early this morning encountering nothing but empty pumps with plastic bags over their handles. "This was the last resort," says Smith. "I was all the way on E. I thought they was gonna have to push me up to the pump!" Would $25 be enough for her? "No! I'm gonna have to come back in a few minutes and 25 more!" laughs Smith. But she's only partly joking. The next customer in line tries to do exactly that. But the cashier recognizes him and starts to rant that customers like him are "the problem" as they fill up their tanks and come back to fill cans, too. Authorities say the shortage is made worse by people hoarding gas in cans and buy more than they need. Stations in Charlotte continue to receive sporadic deliveries of fuel, but some mountain towns like Asheville have reportedly run completely dry. The extent of this shortage seems to have surprised authorities and customers. "I've never seen it this bad," says Barbara Smith. "It's crazy." The shortage is being blamed on hurricane damage to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, where the Southeast gets the majority of its fuel. AAA Carolinas reports that several major refineries are expected to be back in production this weekend, but it could take weeks for gas supplies in Charlotte to return to normal levels.