Florida residents are facing a “potentially widespread” fuel spill along the state’s Gulf Coast that could damage vehicles as Tropical Storm Idalia approaches and residents may face evacuation orders, state officials said a day after the governor declared the state of emergency for called the storm.
Fuel purchased after 10 a.m. Saturday from Citgo-supplied gas stations in the Port of Tampa is at high risk of contamination, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said Sunday.
The contamination was caused by the accidental mixing of diesel and gasoline, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference on Sunday.
“Basically, it was just human error,” he said. “They put diesel in tanks that were supposed to be regular gasoline.”
The state Department of Agriculture listed about 30 gas stations that could be affected, while warning that gasoline contaminated with diesel could cause engine damage or affect a car’s ability to function.
In many cases, drivers may only be able to travel a few miles before the engine shuts off, which could create a potentially dangerous situation for those attempting to evacuate the vehicle.
As Tropical Storm Idalia is expected to strengthen, officials have warned evacuation notices could follow. The Florida Department of Emergency Management told the residents to keep their gas tanks at least half full should an emergency evacuation be ordered.
Mr DeSantis said the contamination could “complicate things” if an evacuation was required, but added that the state has launched an investigation into the incident.
“People may just be stuck on the side of the road,” he said on Sunday. “I mean, if you fill up your diesel tank and start driving it, it’s not going to end well.”
Gas stations affected by the contamination have been asked to stop selling gas until the contaminated fuel is replaced and the tanks cleaned.
The state Department of Agriculture did not immediately respond to questions about how many stations completed these steps.
A spokeswoman for the Port of Tampa Bay, Lisa Wolf-Chason, said the port is aware of the contamination at the Citgo fuel terminal, but added that the terminal is not affiliated with the port and that the company’s operations are not under the authority or port supervision.
“The port has been in contact with our five partner fuel terminal operators and we have been assured that they are ready to supply fuel and provide consumer support as Tropical Storm Idalia approaches and sweeps through our region,” she said.
A Citgo representative said the company discovered the contaminated product on Saturday and coordinated efforts to remove it from retail stores that received it.
Both gasoline and diesel come from crude oil, but they are chemically different, according to the National Motorists Association, and mixing the two can damage the engine.
The organization advises drivers not to start the engine or have the tank flushed by a mechanic.
Kevin Guthrie, chief executive of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said Sunday the agency is working to ensure the contamination is resolved quickly.
State officials were “coordinating with everyone from the petroleum traders to the ports themselves to ensure the disruption is not widespread or prolonged,” Mr Guthrie said, “and residents can have smooth access to fuel.”