Before Hurricane Irma evacuees who went out of state return to Florida, there is one item they need to add to their checklists: Make sure you have enough gas.
That is especially urgent as the state struggles to restock its depleted stock of gasoline, the result of Floridians filling up their tanks in advance of Irma and the state’s ports being shut down because of the storm.
"Florida evacuees should plan their return home very carefully," said Mark Jenkins, spokesman, AAA - The Auto Club Group. "First, ensure you know there are no major hazards at home or along your travel route. Expect congestion on the roadways, as the first few days after the storm will be the busiest. Pay close attention to traffic reports. Ensure you have a full tank of gas before you hit the road. Do not let your fuel gauge fall below a quarter tank before you start looking for a place to refuel. Bring a gas can in case you run out of fuel. It is not safe to drive with a full gas can inside an enclosed vehicle."
AAA said stations near major highways likely will be pinched because of the increased demand for gasoline.
“Suppliers face an uphill battle in the coming days, trying to keep gas stations supplied, as Florida evacuees return home in large numbers after the storm,” AAA said. “Gas stations not located along major highways should have an easier time keeping supplies, as residents are no longer ‘panic pumping,’ since the storm is no longer a threat.
“Refueling gas stations along major evacuation routes will be a top priority, as it was before the storm. Motorists are still likely to find long lines, which could lead to temporary outages, due to the surge in demand,” AAA said.
There were reports that some gas stations in Manatee County were reopening. For instance, a Speedway station on State Road 64 East, east of Interstate 75 was open and selling gas by mid-day Monday.
Adding to the challenge for returning Floridians: The state relies entirely on gasoline shipments that arrive at several of the state’s ports, including the Port of Tampa. All of the ports remain closed and they cannot be re-opened until they pass inspection by the U.S. Coast Guard and other authorities.
Statewide Monday, the average price of gasoline was $2.72 a gallon for regular unleaded, 8 cents higher than a week ago. In Bradenton-Sarasota-Venice, the average price also was $2.72, 9 cents higher than last week.
The most expensive gas price averages in Florida are in West Palm Beach-Boca Raton ($2.80), Miami ($2.77), and Fort Lauderdale ($2.75), according to AAA.
The least expensive gas price averages in Florida are in Pensacola ($2.65), Tallahassee ($2.70), and Fort Myers-Cape Coral ($2.70).