Hurricane Irma: Massive effort to ship fuel into Florida, ease gas shortages

The Trump administration has waived a key statute to allow for “as many ships as possible” to bring fuel into Florida, as part of a massive effort to ease gas shortages for Florida residents and others in the path of Hurricane Irma.

“We’re bringing in as much supply of refined fuel as possible,” Tom Bossert, White House homeland security adviser, told reporters on Friday.

The move was made in conjunction with state officials in Florida who are scrambling to get fuel to the pumps and alleviate gas shortages. Florida has taken several steps to expedite those shipments.

At the federal level, the step Bossert cited involves an obscure but critical law known as the Jones Act, which says only American-made, U.S.-flagged vessels can ship products between domestic ports. He said the secretary of Homeland Security waived the statute so that foreign-flagged vessels can help.

“So as many ships as possible are now being brought to bear ... to bring as much fuel as possible” into Florida, Bossert said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott also said Friday that he’s directed state police to escort fuel trucks so they can then quickly deliver the fuel to gas stations along evacuations routes. He’s also rescinded all weight and driver restrictions so fuel and other supplies can be brought in.

An update from the governor’s office said 8.4 million gallons of fuel was shipped into Port Everglades and over 5 million was shipped into Port Tampa Bay on Thursday alone. The office said emergency contractors have also “secured 1.5 million gallons of fuel for initial delivery and confirmed that additional fuel supply is on standby for future deliveries.” 

“We know fuel is important- we're devoting every state resource available & working around the clock to get fuel to you,” Scott tweeted.

Bossert said the state is facing the same kind of massive fuel shortages that Texas saw before and during Hurricane Harvey, as residents gas up their cars to evacuate or get fuel for generators.

Fuel shortages are reported to be widespread in Florida as residents clog the highways trying to escape from the now-Category 4 storm’s path. Drivers are facing long lines and dwindling supplies at gas stations.

A 5 a.m. Saturday ET advisory from the National Hurricane Center said the storm was about 45 miles east of Caibarien, Cuba, and about 245 miles south-southeast of Miami, with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph. The storm was moving at 12 mph.

Bossert urged residents Friday to listen to local authorities and to follow the “oxygen mask theory” --  “Take care of yourself first so you can take care of others.”

He also voiced concern that some might have “hurricane amnesia,” forgetting the serious damage that storms in the region caused in 2004 and 2005.

“Take it seriously,” he said. “… Do prepare to be in the storm’s path, just in case.”

President Trump received an update on the hurricane in the Oval Office earlier Friday. 

“Hurricane Irma is of epic proportion, perhaps bigger than we have ever seen. Be safe and get out of its way,if possible. Federal G is ready!” Trump tweeted Friday.