Walking up to the long line of cars at a gas station in South Houston, Erestine Coleman starts talking to me right away.
“We need multiple trucks to come in here and to be able to distribute it to all the different gas stations that we have. And basically right now for our needs is gas all around the city and more gas that will help the people. I mean this is sad because people are getting angry. They don’t know how to come in. They don’t know how to go out. And it’s causing a problem and this should not be.”
Coleman says she started looking for gas at 6am. At one point she pulled over in tears, worried she’d run out and be stranded. It took her nearly six hours to find an open station.
Most of us know exactly how she feels.
“Valero, just Valero, has three refineries that are still out of commission because of the hurricane.”
That’s Valero Spokesman Bill Day. He says there are several reasons for the gasoline shortage. Along the Gulf Coast, 3.5 million barrels of oil a day are offline. And the majority of stations in Houston still don’t have electricity to pump the gas.
“So as electricity is restored to those areas, we can reopen the stores. That’s assuming if they don’t have any damage from the hurricane, because we do have some stores that lost canopies, some of them had windows broken, some suffered flood damage. In those cases then we’re going to have to do a little work on the stores. But in most cases we can just the store up and operating, and we have them stocked with merchandise and we have them supplied with fuel.”
And there may be another uglier reason for the shortage. Houston Mayor Bill White says some of it is caused by hoarding.
“Everybody topped off and everybody started filling everything they had. And few people realize there’s more fuel stored in tanks of cars than there are underground in this country. So if everybody tops off at the same time, then people are going to run out of gas at these stations.”
But all the reasons in the world are small consolation for people like Kirk Selexma. He’s looking for gasoline and supplies for his wife and baby girl.
“It’s hard. We’re looking for water too. After we get gas, I have a list of items I have to try to pick up so we can just do our day to day. And it’s been very difficult. I guess you could say we have power, but if we don’t have anything to eat then I guess that power doesn’t really matter.”
Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.