The fuel crunch throughout Southeastern Louisiana has hit residents hard, and while lines are beginning to shorten as more fuel stations begin to open, a trip to the gas station more often than not still requires a significant investment of time.
Lines extending from station entry ways far into and far down the road have been common sights since Hurricane Ida took a devastating toll on so many communities throughout the state – not the least of which St. Charles Parish, which was among the very most affected regions by the storm’s wrath. It’s not uncommon to see people camped out in their cars by a station when news comes about that it’s about to open for the first time since Ida.
Mike Nabut, General Manager of Birdies Food and Fuel, rode out the storm alongside his wife and their five children in the family’s Boutte home. The experience was among the most mentally taxing he can recall.
“Honestly, I was scared,” Nabut said. “It was a very emotional time, especially with the kids and knowing we had the opportunity to leave and we decided to stay. You start second guessing yourself … ultimately, you have to have faith. We do and we did, and we rode it out.
“Thank God for that … we lost a lot during the storm, but the one thing I gained was those six hours with my family and realizing what was truly important was with me in that room.”
He wouldn’t have, or take, much time at all to gather himself. One day later, Birdies was among the first fuel stations to reopen, something that was made possible, he credits, to the business’ status as a Valero distributor.
“We’re one of the few Valero distributors in the state. They want everything back to normal as quickly as possible and fuel is one of the most important resources to get this turned around. They made sure we had a fuel supply and they continue to make sure on a daily basis the stores are supplied properly,” Nabut said.
He said getting back some sense of normalcy was a big motivator for him as well. The first time he took the turn on to Highway 90 and saw the damage, his “stomach dropped.”
“It brought this sense of reality. This is where we’re at. And we only have one option – you can wait for someone to help you rebuild or you can rebuild yourself,” he said.
It’s been a hectic week. Nabut, like so many, has been impacted and must take care of his family – at the same time, the same is true of his employees.
“I can’t ask someone to come sit behind the register to sell fuel or fried chicken if their family situation is not safe or not secure,” said Nabut, who’s been So, the first thing we did was make sure all my employees are safe and secure and had all the supplies they needed, in order for them to be able to help out the next family.”
As of Friday, eight of Nabut’s 32 store locations were open, including those in Hahnville, Ama and two in Luling. Another will reopen Saturday in Hahnville, while one in Paradis reopens Sunday. Several of the total number of his stores have sustained significant damage.
For the countless wondering when a trip to fill up the tank might be fully representative of normalcy again, Nabut said the growing number of sites reopening is helping to alleviate the pressure and crowding that’s been common over the past week, and will continue to do so.
But there are other issues at play as well impacting the situation. The longer power remains out, the more fuel is needed to run generators as an alternative source. And for the many first responders on hand spurring restoration efforts, their time on the job – and need for fuel – has grown exponentially, and providers must ensure they have the fuel needed for that work. And the long lines of customers are not just local, but people from all over.
“People used to put $20 a week in the car for work and maybe to go out to dinner. Now you have to worry about powering a generator. Consumption is up and production is down,” Nabut said.