The Search for Gas in Mississippi Becomes a Daily Odyssey - - The News for South Mississippi

The Search for Gas in Mississippi Becomes a Daily Odyssey

BILOXI  (AP) -- Pamela Brooks had to have gasoline -- even if it was only a few gallons and the price was ridiculous. On the hurricane-battered Mississippi coast, gasoline means getting around and surviving. Brooks finally tracked down the man she had been told was selling gas from barrels. She waited in line for seven hours for a 5-gallon container, which cost her $25.

"I would have paid $20 a gallon just to have it," she said. "It's a necessity. It's survival. You can't get to ice and water and food and medical treatment without gas."

Gas shortages were starting to ease in parts of Mississippi where power has been restored and tanker trucks were operating. But for many in rural areas from Jackson to the coast, finding fuel for their cars and generators is a daily struggle that has driven some people to extremes.

When people get gas, they protect it like gold. Gas cans poke up from truck beds everywhere, many secured with chains and locks. Former Marine Pete Mesta has started sleeping in his truck with a .357 Magnum, insurance if someone tries to stick a siphon hose down the nozzle -- a practice everyone has heard rumors about. "In the 70s, it was really hard to get gas and everybody always had a gas can and hose because you always had to be ready," said Mesta, 56. "It's like that now. It's a madhouse. It's like World War III here."

Coastal resident Gary Griffin is a big guy with a Dodge Ram pickup truck, but even he has been unnerved by the thought of refueling. He's seen people yelling and jockeying for position in gas lines, and fuel robberies are a threat. "That's the biggest worry when you get to the pump: Can you get it safely?" Griffin said.

In hard-hit areas, lines start shortly after 6 a.m., when the nightly curfew is lifted, and last until the curfew restarts at 6 p.m. Fuel-starved motorists form caravans behind tanker trucks in hopes of being the first in line. Many tankers are escorted by police vehicles.

Even in Jackson, about 160 miles to the north, the search for gas remains a struggle for motorists, who dart from one station to another to get in mile-long lines. Some have run out of gas while waiting.

A few days ago, Harrison County emergency management director Joe Spraggins issued a public plea to corporate America, begging executives to shut down for a day and send the gas they would have used to the Gulf Coast. Standing on the porch of a log cabin store, D.H. Gibson suggested going a step further. "Tell the governor, tell the president: We've got plenty of people bringing us food and water. What we need is petrol. We can't do anything without gas," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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