NEW YORK (Reuters) - Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said on Thursday her office had received 45 complaints of inflated prices at Chevron Corp branded gasoline stations in the southern part of the state, as shortages worsened ahead of Hurricane Irma’s expected U.S. landfall this weekend.
More than 1,800 gas stations - more than a quarter of the state’s total - were without fuel late Thursday, up from 1,200 Wednesday, ahead of Irma, which is battering the Caribbean with winds at speeds of around 185 miles per hour (300 km per hour). The storm is expected to hit Florida on Sunday.
Gasoline prices in Florida have risen sharply in the last week, with the average cost of a regular gallon of gas hitting $2.725 on Thursday, according to motorists advocacy group AAA. Suppliers and terminal operators said demand has soared as motorists in coastal areas flee.
Shortages were more acute in southern Florida, according to Gasbuddy.com. More than 40 percent of stations in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area were without fuel and around 30 percent were empty in the West Palm Beach-Fort Pierce areas, said Patrick DeHaan of Gasbuddy.com.
“So Chevron, if you’re watching me right now, you need to call us and tell us why your prices are inflated in south Florida,” Bondi said on Fox News.
Chevron has said several times this week it has no tolerance for price gouging at its stations. No retail outlets in Florida are directly owned by the company. The company reiterated that on Thursday, saying consumers should report price gouging to Bondi’s office.
“Our fuel supply agreements with independently owned Chevron and Texaco stations in the state and elsewhere require them to comply with all laws,” spokesman Braden Reddall said in a statement.
Port Everglades, the major point of fuel delivery for south Florida, is set to close Friday evening. At Tampa Bay, three ships made deliveries Thursday morning, unloading 1.2 million gallons each, said Samara Sodos, a spokeswoman for the port, adding that the port received five deliveries on Wednesday.
One terminal operator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said his terminal typically loaded 25,000 to 30,000 barrels a day onto trucks every day, and expected to hit 40,000 to 45,000 on Thursday.
Concerns about shortages spread beyond Florida as Caribbean fuel terminals closed and residents began evacuating other coastal U.S. states, including Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. Georgia said on Thursday it will close its ports Friday night because of Irma.
Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar and Jessica Resnick Ault; Additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder in Houston and Tim Ahmann in Washington; Editing by James Dalgleish, Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis