Gas prices in Blount County jumped past $4 by 2 p.m. Friday as Hurricane Ike’s impending arrival on the East Texas coast threatened oil refineries.
Fuel prices rose 80 cents to $4.49 at the Pilot on West Broadway Avenue, with other outlets showing increases that pushed most area pumps to over $4 per gallon.
Brett Howell, kitchen manager at Sun Up Diner on West Broadway, said gas at the Pilot was $3.69 when he got to work at 7 a.m. Friday. "Right now, it says $4.49," he said.
“The hurricane has threatened the refineries, pipelines and oil port where we receive the foreign oil,” said Charlie Carruthers, president of Downey Oil which sells gas at BP convenience stores throughout the area.
When word came that fuel prices would be rising, customers began to hit the pumps throughout the area in an effort to fill up before the prices jumped even higher. “We sold more than normal. We had a busy night,’ said Mike Leitzell, owner/manager at the Exxon at East Broadway Avenue and Washington Street.
Leitzell said business has been brisk. “They’re blowing through it pretty quick,” he said. “We’ve run out of Regular, and we’re about to run out of Plus.”
Leitzell said his distributor would let him know when more fuel was available. He was preparing to request another load of fuel Friday afternoon.
Oil companies locally were working to deal with the circumstances brought about by the hurricane. One local distributor said his company was paying $3.90 per gallon and charging $3.99.
“The situation is changing hour by hour,” said Susan McNutt with McNutt Oil, owner of Texaco and Mr. Gas convenience stores in Blount County. “It’s going to be a crazy weekend.”
No one was available for comment at Calloway Oil who operate the EZ Stop convenience stores. Carruthers with Downey Oil said the oil companies put them on a 70 percent allocation in light of the situation and raised the price 35 cents a gallon.
Carruthers said, “I don’t know what will happen tonight, it could go up another 50 cents,” he said. “I guess it’s a wait and see situation to see where it goes.”
Carruthers said he saw a similar situation during the Gulf War in the early 1990s. “My hope is the hurricane won’t create a lot of destruction, and we’ll get back to usual production,” he said. “If there’s no damage, they could start them back up.”