Gas Shortages, Road Jams In Jacksonville As Hurricane Irma Approaches South Florida

Drivers in Jacksonville are finding many gas stations are out of regular-grade gas — if there’s any at all. And roads are getting congested as mandatory evacuations in coastal areas have been ordered from the Florida Keys up to Southeast Georgia.

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams is asking all those evacuating from South Florida into Jacksonville to take the Interstate 295 Beltway as they approach the city.

He says the Florida Highway Patrol has posted signs directing traffic onto I-295 from I-95.

“We’re asking them to stay off of 95 directly through the city and take that beltway as they continue north or west on I-10. So it’ll be smoother. It’ll keep downtown from clogging up,” Williams said.

Gov. Rick Scott says shoulder lanes of highways have not been opened up for evacuation traffic, but that would be the next move if roads get too clogged.

And with the storm’s forecast still uncertain, some of the earliest evacuees were already heading leaving town.

Kristen O'Hara, of Coral Springs, prepares to drive from Jacksonville to Gainesville Thursday after evacuating on Tuesday.
Credit Michelle Corum / WJCT News

On Thursday, Kristen O’Hara, of Coral Springs, was packing her two kids and two dogs back into their minivan outside a motel in Mandarin.

“We’ve been in Jacksonville since Tuesday night and heading over to Gainesville,” she said. “We were going to go up north, but all the hotels are sold out in Georgia. So we’re going to head west a bit inland so it’s not a direct hit for us.”

Meanwhile, the latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center shows the storm’s expected track to go right up the center of the Florida Peninsula.  

Gas In Short Supply

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida) told CNN Thursday he’s concerned about gas shortages, which seem to be creeping northward from Miami, where they’re the worst.

“We desperately need gasoline. That’s why I fired off an email last night to the head of FEMA to see if they can get gasoline into the state because people are running out in their cars. They can’t get it in the gas station,” he said.

Running out of gas while evacuating is exactly what scares Cyd-Marie Lopez. She said she went to several stations in Jacksonville’s Baymeadows area before filling up Thursday around lunch time.

“I’m a bit concerned, but I’d rather be off on the road than staying at home with the kids,” she said.

Gov. Scott said he’s coordinating Florida Highway Patrol escorts for gas tankers. In Jacksonville Thursday, he said he’s also arranging military escorts for fuel tankers heading to Florida ports and is trying to divert additional fuel ships to the Sunshine State.

“Last night I spoke with all the fuel retailers, this morning I spoke with the oil companies and earlier today I spoke with fuel suppliers. I’ve been very clear to all these groups: I have to know exactly what they need so we can work together to get fuel to families as fast as possible,” he said.

Scott also suspended weight restrictions for trucks carrying gas, and the governors of Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas have done the same. He said he’s also working with federal agencies to get fuel flowing into Florida.

“I’ve talked to [the Federal Emergency Management Agency], the Department of Energy, [the Environmental Protection Agency], the Department of Transportation and the White House about waiving federal rules and regulations to get as much fuel as possible into our state and through our ports,” he said.

He’s also urging gas stations in evacuation zones to stay open as long as possible, offering police escorts for employees working there.

Meanwhile, he’s advising people to use the GasBuddy smartphone app to see which stations still have fuel.

Ryan Benk can be reached at rbenk@wjct.org, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter at @RyanMichaelBenk.