TALLAHASSEE | Florida is scrambling to meet the high demand for gas from people fleeing and preparing for the weekend’s arrival of the powerful and deadly Hurricane Irma.
Road regulations and restrictions have been lifted for fuel truckers, who receive escorts from law enforcement. In addition, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt on Thursday approved emergency fuel waivers requested by Governor Rick Scott, who is trying to get more gas to the city faster. Florida.
“Demand obviously increases during this time, so what we’re trying to do is make sure that on the supply side we have more options than what’s out there,” Pruitt said in an interview with The News Service of Florida.
Pruitt said he spoke with Scott several times by phone Thursday. Scott requested an extension of the waivers, which were approved for Hurricane Harvey and were set to expire Sept. 15.
“These waivers will provide certainty and confidence to refiners and other industry players, which will benefit the citizens of Florida and other affected states (per Irma),” Pruitt said.
Scott also wants people, especially those who plan to ride out the storm at home or nearby shelters, to be more altruistic and only fill up with the amount of gas they might need. over the next few days.
“What’s happening is people are buying so much gas right now, as soon as you fill up at the retailer, they’re buying all the gas before the truck can come back,” Scott said.
Scott also warned Floridians not to delay if they are ordered to evacuate or have decided to leave their homes.
“We can’t save you once the storm hits,” Scott said Thursday afternoon at the Jacksonville Emergency Operations Center. “Once there is an evacuation order, get out.”
As of 5 p.m. Thursday, Irma was about 135 miles east of Great Inagua Island, with maximum sustained winds of 175 mph, moving west-northwest at 16 miles per hour. Scott warned of potentially deadly 5-10ft storm surges in Florida from the Category 5 storm.
“My biggest concern right now is that people aren’t taking the risk of storm surge seriously enough,” Scott said.
Florida received its first storm surge and hurricane watches Thursday morning, from Jupiter Inlet south around the peninsula to Bonita Beach. The hurricane watch — typically issued 48 hours before tropical storm-force winds arrive — also includes Lake Okeechobee and Florida Bay.
A storm surge watch means life-threatening rising waters are likely within 48 hours.
The Florida Keys, where more than 25,000 people hit the road after mandatory evacuations were ordered for tourists and residents, are under both watch.
Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for barrier islands and lower mainland areas in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said depending on the storm’s forecast path, evacuation orders could be issued Friday for low-lying areas and mobile homes in northeast Florida.
For those evacuating: “Go north or west,” Curry said.
“They have to get out of Jacksonville,” he added. “They need to get out of the storm’s path.”
Curry worried that some residents were complacent after Hurricane Matthew last October. This hurricane made its way up the East Coast but never made landfall in Florida. It left more than a million people without power, caused severe flooding along the Saint John River, and was responsible for 12 deaths in the state.
“One of the things we’ve heard here in and around Jacksonville is that this is another Matthew,” Curry said. “This is not another Matthew. And to be clear, Matthew has inflicted serious damage on our city.
Scott has activated 3,000 additional members of the Florida National Guard, bringing the number to 4,000. Another 3,000 are expected to be activated by Friday.
Scott also tweeted a photo of a Florida Highway Patrol car traveling behind a fuel truck on a freeway, noting that the FHP escorts “fuel trucks through FL to ensure supplies are replenished quickly.”
Scott added in a statement that he has been in contact with federal officials, fuel retailers and oil companies to address fuel shortages.
“We have asked oil companies to identify ships that are en route to our ports so that we can arrange military escorts to get them here faster,” Scott said. “To further expedite fuel delivery, I have ordered state police to escort tanker trucks to gas stations along the evacuation routes.”
Truck weight regulations and driver restrictions have been removed for tank trucks.
To help keep gas stations open longer in evacuation zones, Scott added the state’s offer to arrange police escorts for station workers.
The Florida Ports Council reported that several tankers were heading to Port Tampa and JaxPort and were docked in Florida ports.
“Fuel distribution is expedited at all phases of delivery — Governor Scott has arranged for military vessels to escort vessels to docks and for law enforcement to escort fuel trucks to at stations,” the council said Thursday.