Past the jam of cars and bodies at Buffalo Wild Wings, past the long lines at the drive-ins at Taco Bell and Arby’s, an even longer line grew at the Harris Teeter Fuel Station.
The caravan of vehicles waiting for gas wrapped around a block, longer than half a mile. About 200 cars crawled along, halting, moving a quarter of a mile in 90 minutes. A grey car snuck into line, prompting a cacophony of horns. The driver ignored the mob and crept ahead to get gas, precious gas.
Wilmington is cut off by floodwaters and vital supplies are becoming scarce.
Word of abundant and available gas had spread. It was supposedly available at Costco and this station for the first time since before Florence made landfall on Friday. Masses waited impatiently for their turn.
For most, it never came. A man in a yellow raincoat waved away hundreds.
“Sorry! There’s no more!” he screamed into the rain, waving his arms to shoo cars away from the store.
Before Florence, the GasBuddy app activated a fuel tracker for the Carolinas and Virginia. The closest and most accessible area with multiple fuel options, it said, was Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, more than a two-hour drive south.
That was not an option on Sunday. Wilmington was an island after access roads flooded and fallen trees blocked communities. New Hanover county officials said there was no way in or out. On Facebook, they said: “The county is virtually surrounded by water right now and there is no easy way to come home.”
Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, wrote on Twitter that 73% of gas stations in Wilmington were reported to be out of gas.
“That’s a fairly high number,” he said, pointing out that “millions of evacuees” would have depleted supplies on leaving. “Looking at the statewide outage number, about 20% as of now, that’s lower than outages after last year’s Hurricane Irma.”
A whisper network emerged, rumours of stations with gas spreading like precious fumes. Patricia Green, a resident of downtown Wilmington, was adamant a truck stop down the road was open and ready for business.
“Even for cars, yes, they said they have 5,000 gallons of fuel,” she said.
It wasn’t open.
In an isolated city, three days after the storm, it was not only fuel that was becoming hard to find. Even food supplies were becoming limited. An airlift was planned. But tempers were beginning to fray.
On Saturday, local news reporter Luke Lyddon posted video after someone cut a line for gas. In the ensuing argument, somebody pulled a gun. No one was hurt.
At Costco, police looked on. In Wilmington, people now have no choice but to wait.
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