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Lines for gas form - on fumes and rumors

Hundreds wait, patiently and impatiently, for the power to come on and gasoline to flow.

By STEVE THOMPSON
Published October 27, 2005


BOCA RATON - The line at the gas station was 232 cars long and the gas wasn't even flowing.

Leo Relin was No. 232. His Ford Focus had half a tank of gas and three empty cans in the trunk.

"I have nothing to do all day," said Relin, 18. "I have a Bill Bryson book, and I have a stick shift. So I'm just going to be pushing my car."

And so he pushed it forward a few more feet.

Relin's line was one of two snaking away from the On the Run convenience mart Wednesday, just off Florida's Turnpike at the exit leading into Boca Raton. It was the only gas station for miles with even a promise of gas.

But it was enough to persuade nearly 400 people to wait. And wait. And wait.

The scene of hope and frustration was repeated throughout South Florida Wednesday as hurricane-battered residents coped with the dual problem of no power for their homes and no gas for their cars or generators.

So they begged strangers for a couple of gallons, scurried after rumors of working pumps or drove clear across the state in search of gas.

The problem was not supply but power. Without electricity, the gas stations cannot run their pumps.

Many drivers lined up at service plazas along Florida's Turnpike. But their patience was only partly rewarded. Each car was limited to $20 in gas.

At On the Run, Skip Holland was No. 8 in the second line that formed, 148 cars long. Why here? "It was on the radio this morning," said Holland, 61.

He had witnessed the whole spectrum of human behavior while he sat in his sport utility vehicle, waiting with empty gas cans for his generator. "You have people being amazingly nice and sweet," Holland said, "and you have people being amazingly stupid and selfish."

Robert Schneider, 59, was third in line. He was headed to Lowe's when he saw the traffic lights flickering on at a nearby intersection.

"I wasn't really believing what I was seeing," Schneider said. Power meant gas might start flowing at the closed convenience mart. "We started calling telephone numbers on the front door, me and another guy."

It was 6:35 a.m.

Before long, a station manager arrived. Workers appeared to cap off a storm-damaged pump. But the parts they needed had yet to arrive. Everyone waited. And waited.

Palm Beach County sheriff's Deputy Todd Baker kept things organized. He huddled like a quarterback with his partner.

"When somebody's pumping, there's going to be another one ready to go," Baker said. "No gap."

But so far, it was all plan and no action. The pumps weren't flowing.

Nora Cohen and her husband tried to move to the head of the line, passing everyone.

Baker told her to go back. "We're on empty. Empty!" protested Cohen, 70. "We can't go anywhere. We'd have to be towed."

Eventually, the gas started flowing.

It was 2:30 p.m., eight hours after the first car arrived.

[Last modified October 27, 2005, 01:29:09]


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