Ike sideswipe batters Ala. coast; gas prices rise

Published 5:47 pm Friday, September 12, 2008

DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala. (AP) – Water pushed inland by Hurricane Ike swamped parts of the Alabama coast Friday and drivers took a beating at the gas pump as the massive storm roared through the Gulf of Mexico toward Texas’ petroleum coast.

Residents and workers were stranded on Dauphin Island by floodwaters that covered roads. At least they didn’t have to spend much money on gasoline, which jumped as much as 50 cents a gallon in a few hours statewide.

The attorney general’s office received more than 220 complaints about rising fuel prices, but officials said they were powerless to do anything because the governor hadn’t declared a state of emergency, a key requirement for the state’s price-gouging law to kick in.

Ike was hardly a major disaster in Alabama: Flooding was isolated to the state’s low-lying coastal regions, and no major damage was reported. In a statement, Gov. Bob Riley said he would like lawmakers to consider making it easier to declare a state of emergency.

“Governor Riley is also concerned about rising gasoline prices and the supply of gasoline, and he certainly encourages gas wholesalers and retailers to act responsibly,” said spokesman Jeff Emerson.

Roads flooded on the western end of Dauphin Island, and foamy sea water rushed under homes built on stilts. Motorists hadn’t been able to get on or off the island since Thursday because water covered the causeway from the mainland.

“I can’t leave and other people who work here can’t get here,” said Len Davis, who works at Gulf Breeze Motel and lives off the island. “It’s probably going to be (Saturday) before I can get off.”

Water also was high in the beach towns of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, but officials did not order evacuations. No injuries were reported, but winds gusted up to 40 mph before calming as Ike moved westward.

“We have crews on the ground monitoring these situations and waiting for the water to recede so they can go in and take care of the roads underneath so they are passable again,” said Paula Tillman, a spokeswoman with the Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency.

Ike was expected to make landfall on the Texas coast late Friday or early Saturday, possibly damaging refineries and fuel-producing factories in the area.

Gasoline shortages already were occurring in some Alabama towns, with some stations limiting purchases to 10 gallons and others selling out.

“Due to the series of petroleum market disruptions resulting from Hurricane Gustav, Hanna and Ike we are temporarily unable to provide certain grades of fuels at this location,” said a sign on a pump at a Shell station in Alexander City.

Long gas lines formed in metro Birmingham as commuters drove home, and some stations ran out of fuel. The AAA of Alabama blamed the price hikes on unwarranted panic buying.

“It’s the absolute worst thing you can do, without question, far and away,” said Clay Ingram, a spokesman for AAA. “There is absolutely no need for it.”

Some gasoline prices around Guntersville jumped about 45 cents overnight, with several stations increasing to $4 a gallon for regular unleaded hours before Ike hit Texas. Long lines formed at several stores where gas was still priced around $3.50 a gallon.

Motorists found the same thing in Huntsville, where one station raised its price 40 cents per gallon Friday morning and lines formed at cheaper gas pumps. The attorney general’s office received a complaint about gas selling for $5.29 a gallon in Dothan, said spokesman Chris Bence.

University of Alabama student Anisha Oden, 20, said she would change her weekend plans because of the rapidly rising gas prices, which she called “ridiculous.”

“I guess I’m not going to Six Flags this Sunday after all,” she said.