By JONATHAN M. KATZ (AP)
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haitians scuffled at gas pumps and waited for hours at filling stations Thursday as the quake-ravaged country struggled with fuel shortages caused by a delayed shipment from Venezuela.
Drivers chased rumors of available gasoline across the hills of the rubble-filled capital. Some abandoned their cars to carry empty milk jugs, soda bottles and buckets on foot to collect as much fuel as rationing station owners would allow them to buy.
The impoverished Caribbean nation is dependent on imports to fuel cars, generators and the intricately painted group taxis known as “tap-taps” that connect people to jobs, food and each other.
Haitian officials tried to reassure citizens, telling them fuel would arrive Sunday aboard the delayed Royal Dutch Shell-operated tanker, but that did little to soothe quake-rattled nerves.
“My home was destroyed and I’m trying to make money to feed my family,” said Bonel Jean, a 32-year-old tap-tap driver waiting for hours under the beating sun. “The government is not taking its responsibility to get us fuel on time.”
The country’s limited fuel supply is replenished twice a month by ship, much provided under preferential terms by Venezuela’s PetroCaribe program. The shipment scheduled to arrive Tuesday was delayed during an intermediate stop in the eastern Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda.
With few reserves on hand, distributors clamped down and limited customers to about five gallons at a time. Gas sold for about $5 a gallon ($1.30 a liter) in the capital Thursday, a typical price in the fuel-starved country.
Finance Minister Ronald Baudin said the government has authorized gasoline companies to import from the neighboring Dominican Republic — which also suffers from fuel shortages — but acknowledged “the distribution is a little slow.”
Baudin told The Associated Press that officials are trying to set up a three-month supply of fuel to act as a “buffer” in case of future delays.
A senior official with the United Nations mission in Haiti said earthquake relief efforts have not been affected because the international body and humanitarian groups have reserves to last through the weekend.
But if the shipment does not arrive by Sunday, the gasoline shortage will become critical, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.
Shortages like this are common in Haiti. Fuel supplies were completely cut off after the Jan. 12 earthquake destroyed the port and wrecked fuel lines, creating a thriving black market of pirated fuel sold directly from trucks and broken tanks.
Associated Press writers Evens Sanon and Frank Bajak contributed to this story.
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