Drivers around the South rushed to fill their gas tanks Friday as prices skyrocketed after Gulf Coast refineries shut down in preparation for Hurricane Ike. One regional chain urged patrons to limit themselves to 10 gallons and officials in some states tried to head off a run on gas by threatening to prosecute stations that gouge consumers.
"We are encouraging motorists to exercise some restraint this weekend," said AAA Carolinas spokeswoman Carol Gifford. "The run on gas is creating a crisis before there is a crisis."
Some stations said gas could cost $5 a gallon by the end of the day.
"Every time there's a hurricane this happens. They're just doing this to rip people off," said 19-year-old Megan Cohen, a South Carolina college student who settled for paying $4.11 a gallon after going to three stations.
As refineries closed, governors in North Carolina, Kentucky and Arkansas signed orders or made declarations allowing their attorneys general to enforce anti-gouging laws.
Gov. Steve Beshear signed the order on Friday, saying gas stations started raising fuel prices overnight before the storm made landfall.
Beshear signed the order at the request of Attorney General Jack Conway, who said in a letter released Friday that invoking the law now will help prevent predatory pricing.
Conway’s spokeswoman Allison Martin said the Attorney General’s office has received reports of gas rising to $4.20 in some locations and exceeding $4.50 others.
In South Carolina — where gas prices increased about 20 cents a gallon on average Friday — Attorney General Henry McMaster said gas stations that price gouge would face criminal prosecution. He did not set a threshold, saying each case must be investigated separately to see whether prices were raised to an "unconscionable" level.
Meanwhile, drivers searched for low prices. Emergency management officials in three western North Carolina counties said lines formed and some stations ran out of fuel Thursday after rumors of supply problems. The officials said there was no shortage.