09/12/08 — Pump panic?

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Pump panic?

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on September 12, 2008 1:57 PM

It is close to 9 Thursday evening and nearly 100 cars have converged on the Kangaroo off U.S. 70 East.

News-Argus/Mitch Loeber

Drivers line up to fuel their vehicles Thursday before the expected spike in gas prices due to Hrricane Ike.

News of a then-anticipated increase in gas prices has prompted many Wayne County residents to fill their respective trucks and sedans.

Similar scenes were unfolding at pumps across Goldsboro and the towns that surround it.

But none quite like this.

A man emerges from the Exxon next door.

He approaches the station’s large sign and starts changing the prices.

“Look at that,” one man shouts from the Kangaroo, pointing to the sign. “He’s increasing the prices right now. That’s gouging.”

Hours later, a new day broke.

Those who filled up last night saved an average of 30 cents per gallon.

Dustin Ray was not one of them.

“Oh, great. Here we go again,” the 28-year-old said as he stepped out of his Ford truck and brought the pump to his tank. “Looks like I’m going to be eating peanut butter and jelly for a while.”

Some local stations kept their prices close to what they were last night — $3.61 here, $3.67 there.

But the vast majority are now charging $4 or more for a gallon of regular unleaded.

“This is getting ridiculous,” Ray said, watching his total purchase race toward $90. “They know people are going to need gas at some point because we have no real option of public transportation.”

The “they” he was referring to?

“The oil companies,” he said. “More money for the oil companies. Like they need it.”

Kelly Woodford just doesn’t understand.

“I heard this was because of the hurricane in Texas,” the 46-year-old said. “The storm isn’t even close to here.”

And then there was Shelly Kornegay, looking at the price on the pump at the Hess on Ash Street, then at her 6-year-old daughter.

“My neighbor told me last night that gas prices were going to be bad today, but she was already in bed,” Ms. Kornegay said. “I just don’t know how much of this we can take. Our budget is already pretty tight.”

Many station owners found out about the incoming increase Thursday.

Breakers broke the ice yesterday afternoon in Wayne, setting off a 40-cent price hike throughout the county.

“I was watching the news yesterday and called for my delivery price,” said Kelly Price, owner of the Berkeley Boulevard station.

Her supplier told her at 10 a.m. the terminals had raised their prices, and she would have to raise hers to $4.02.

They said the refineries in Houston had to shut down in preparation of Hurricane Ike. The storm is heading toward the Gulf Coast and is expected to make landfall early Saturday.

So, by early afternoon, Mrs. Price had become the first to raise the price of gasoline to over $4.

But she wasn’t happy about it.

“It’s ridiculous. I don’t think it’s fair to charge us that price when nothing has happened yet,” she said. “And I was going to go back to not having pre-pay. Now, I can’t take that chance, and then the customers get mad at us.”

Just then, the phone rings.

Another call from her supplier, she says.

The next load would come with a price tag of $4.59.

“We will probably need it sometime today,” she said.

The situation wasn’t much different in Mount Olive.

Just after 8 Thursday evening, police Cpl. Jim Myers was sitting in his patrol car as panicked motorists threatened to spill out of the Handy Mart parking lot and onto North Breazeale Avenue.

The traffic worsened as the evening progressed, and it was after midnight before it finally tapered off, Mount Olive police Chief Ralph Schroeder said.

There were no accidents, but there were some “frayed nerves,” he said.

“We have been (watching gas lines) off and on since about 6 p.m. and now its about 8:20,” Myers said Thursday. “We have not had any accidents, but all of the gas pumps at the Handy Mart, Murphy’s and Wilco Hess have stayed pretty steady. ... The only problem we are having is with the Handy Mart because of parking space and being so close to main roadways. We have had them backed up to the street. The other problem is people just not having patience and not wanting to get in line with other cars.”

Myers said police began monitoring the gas lines on their own before going out on patrol.

“I got call from my wife asking about gas prices,” he said. “She came up here, got gas and told me about it. I didn’t realize it was that bad. I talked to the other officers we had working and asked them to start checking on gas stations. We will be checking back and forth on them throughout the night.”

John Rhodes still can’t believe it.

Watching his total purchase climb from the front seat of his Dodge SUV this morning, he was clearly “frustrated.”

“This is just too much,” he said. “It can’t really be like this forever though, right? Right?”