Gas headed to Vicksburg, distributor says|[9/4/05]

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 4, 2005

As Vicksburg’s fuel crisis appeared to be easing Saturday, a local distributor said more gas is on the way and explained pricing in the area.

“It’s coming – we’re not going to run out of gas in Vicksburg,” said Dan Waring, a co-owner of Waring Oil Company, which provides fuel for 47 gas stations across the state, including Vicksburg.

Stations around the city were already seeing gas tanks being refilled and lines slowing down.

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Waring Oil buys from Chevron and Texaco, who have held down fuel prices in stricken areas, Waring said.

Waring’s prices have remained at about $2.53 for unleaded because of the price controls by the big oil companies.

On the other hand, Waring explained, independent fuel companies, which supply to other stations and convenience stores, follow a spot market, meaning those outlets’ prices are dependent on their costs.

At some stations across Vicksburg Saturday, prices were closer to $3 a gallon.

“They’re paying almost what they’re selling it for. I can guarantee the guy at Zip’s on U.S. 61 North, who’s charging $3.09, is not making what he was before this happened, but he’s probably being accused of price gouging,” Waring said. “Nobody wants to price gouge – it’s so visible. No one wants to go to jail.”

Additionally, Waring said, the situation that has seen lines up to a mile long at some stations in the city, is further impacted by station operators who chose not to open out of fear of being accused of gouging.

One operating station has been reserved for emergency vehicles, while at least one other is selling gas only to hurricane relief vehicles.

He further explained that long waits for gas have been exacerbated by a lack of electricity, a shortage of fuel-truck drivers and no gas in two of the state’s main pipelines, in Collins and Meridian, now up and running.

Waring urged drivers not to “panic-buy. There’s plenty of fuel. We had a shortage for a brief period, which interrupted our supply,” Waring said. “But there’s no shortage now.

“Now gas is coming in from Dallas and Oklahoma – we’re going to have gas. It’s coming.”

As the fuel availability increased, the tension appeared to decrease. Few calls for law officers to break up disturbances in gas line were recorded, down dramatically from the three previous days.

Tension was noted, however, by Entergy officials who said they were forced to call in security detail at offices on U.S. 61 North after a customer without electricity scaled the perimeter fence and threatened workers, said customer service manager Don Arnold.

The customer was one of about 7,000 in the area without electricity at nightfall. Up to 22,000 had been without power on Tuesday, the day after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region.

Additionally, Arnold said, about 50 more workers from Florida were scheduled to arrive in Vicksburg this morning to help the 300 already working to restore power.

Meanwhile Saturday, the Red Cross reported that its four shelters were housing 400 people at the Vicksburg Convention Center, 197 at Bowmar Baptist, 37 at Eagle Lake Baptist, 125 at First Baptist on Cherry Street and three at the Port Gibson Multi-Purpose Building.

The convention center, which is also serving as command central for the area’s emergency operations, has canceled, moved or postponed all bookings through Oct. 15, director Larry Gawronski said.

“We’re anticipating the evacuees could be here for at least 90 days. We’ll keep clearing space for them,” he said.

The convention center can house 700 to 1,100, and up to 480 have been there at one time, Gawronski said.

After nightfall Saturday, 10 buses from Washington, D.C., carrying 28 police officers and 42 civilians, stopped in Vicksburg to shower and sleep before heading to New Orleans. They were being housed at Warren Central High School, Sheriff Martin Pace said.

The convoy will unload supplies and pick up 400 refugees before heading back to the nation’s capital.

“We’re on a mission of mercy,” said Lt. Brian McAllister of the Washington, D.C., Police Department. “We have brought supplies – cleaning supplies, food, clothing – all kinds of supplies donated by D.C. businesses.”

The convoy, which included the buses, a fuel truck, two police cruisers and a private vehicle carrying national media representatives, arrived in Vicksburg around 9. They planned to leave for New Orleans at 6:30 this morning.

“We want stay any amount of time – just long enough to load up people,” McAllister said.