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Florida rushes fuel to Irma evacuation zones: Update 2

08 Sep 2017 22:05 (+01:00 GMT)
Florida rushes fuel to Irma evacuation zones: Update 2

Adds fuel context.

Houston, 8 September (Argus) — Florida state police escorted fuel trucks to evacuation zones today as the state rushed to supply gasoline retailers before Hurricane Irma made landfall.

Governor Rick Scott said fuel was a top priority as he urged residents to flee southern Florida. Police escorted tanker trucks to gas stations from the ports of Tampa and the Everglades, and escorted school buses carrying station employees who stayed longer to continue fueling the Miami area for exodus.

Roughly 200,000 bl of fuel had shipped into Port Everglades and another roughly 120,000 bl arrived in Port Tampa. Federal authorities waived requirements that US-flagged, US-crewed and US-made vessels move product between US ports, called the Jones Act.

Charters this week had booked most available articulated tug barges to move product from the New York Harbor into the region. But port closures loomed. Tampa, Everglades, Jacksonville in Florida and Savannah, Georgia, planned to close at midnight today.

The closures cut off gasoline resupply until after the storm, Scott warned.

"We know there are problems with supply at gas stations and are working around the clock to get fuel to you," Scott said. "While we are making progress, unfortunately, you are going to see lines, and, unfortunately, you are going to see outages."

Irma had weakened to a category 4 storm, with sustained winds of at least 130 mpg (209 km/h). But conditions appeared to support the storm maintaining that strength across the Bahamas and into southern Florida, barreling up that state into Georgia, according to private forecaster MDA Weather Services.

Federal regulators and surrounding states waived trucking regulations as part of the resupply effort. Sweeping exemptions to clean air requirements mandating higher-specification gasoline and diesel made it easier to resupply the southeast. But the region was still recovering from a reduction in supply from Hurricane Harvey, which shut or reduced rates at roughly 5mn b/d of Texas and Louisiana-based refineries and slowed throughput on Colonial Pipeline's 1.4mn b/d gasoline-bearing Line 1 running from near Houston to Greensboro, North Carolina.

Much of the affected refining has returned to service, with another roughly 2mn b/d working toward restart. Colonial steadily restarted segments in Texas since Harvey stormed through, with flooded Port Arthur equipment expected to resume service by the end of the month.

The South Carolina Ports Authority, which operates the port of Charleston, planned normal operations through tomorrow. Retrieving fuel from the port had strained drivers from upstate, South Carolina Petroleum Marketers' Association executive director Michael Fields said.

Earlier tracks showing the storm moving up to the South Carolina coast had spurred panic buying in that state, he said.

"Things are tight," Fields said. "The hangover from Harvey, and, I think the kind of bull rush and panic buying that is going on in South Carolina, have put a strain, there is no question about it."