Motorists flocked to gas stations Friday afternoon after gas prices sharply increased amidst news that Gulf Coast refineries were shutting down in preparation for Hurricane Ike.
The stations with less expensive gas had long lines of drivers waiting to fill their tanks. Some gas station managers were raising their gas prices as much as 30 cents at a time.
Gasoline prices at local gas stations diverged wildly with an extreme high of $5.20 at the Ingles store on Salem Road in Conyers to $3.82 at the BP station on Pace Street in downtown Covington.
Toya Bluiett stopped by the QuikTrip on U.S. Highway 278 to fill up her tank at approximately 2:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon after her husband called her with the news that gas prices had steeply risen around the metro Atlanta area.
"I went down to RaceWay and they had no gas in the mid and low grade," Bluiett said. "I don't know what the scare's about. It's scary."
QuickTrip station manager Bryan Thomas said unleaded gas prices were $3.59 when he came to work Friday morning. By 2:30 p.m. they had risen to $3.89.
Thomas said the gas station raised its prices when they were directed to by their corporate office. He said QuickTrip would not be running out of gas. But, by 4:30 p.m. Friday, their billboard gas price signs were completely blank. The station remained out of gas on Saturday afternoon.
The RaceWay station down the road also ran out of gasoline Friday.
Tony Kumar, manager of the Chevron station at the corner of Emory Street and Washington Street, was in the process of changing the station's gas prices from $3.68 to $3.98 a gallon at 3 p.m. Friday.
"I just got the phone call that gas went up everywhere because of the hurricane," Kumar said.
Friday night, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed an executive order activating the state's price gouging statute to protect consumers from unreasonable price increases for gasoline because of Hurricane Ike.
The governor said the hurricane "has disrupted the production of distribution of gasoline, which will have an effect on prices. We expect the prices that Georgians pay at the pump to be in line with the prices retailers are paying. We will not tolerate retailers taking advantage of Georgians during a time of emergency."
The statute prevents retailers from selling goods or services at an unreasonable price. It does not prevent price increases that accurately reflect an increase in the cost of the goods or services to the retailer
"We are encouraging motorists to exercise some restraint this weekend," said AAA spokeswoman Carol Gifford. "The run on gas is creating a crisis before there is a crisis."
Exxon Mobil Corp., Valero Energy Corp., ConocoPhillips and Marathon Oil Co. were among the companies that stopped refinery operations on the Texas coast, primarily in the Houston area. The area accounts for about 20 percent of U.S. refining capacity.
The Associated Press contributed to this report