"Our credit card machine is broken," read the handwritten sign taped to one of the gas pumps. "Pay cash or check."
Nevertheless, the cars, trucks and vans began lining up as early as 5 a.m. Friday outside Renovations, a family-run home improvement store and gas station in this small town of shrimpers about 70 miles southwest of New Orleans. A gallon of regular gas was $3.10. A nearby station had been charging $2.46 for regular and $2.91 for supreme late Thursday, but it ran out of fuel.
Inside Renovations, owner Wade Cantrelle, 43, was huddled with his partner, Liz Somerville, who helps run the shop, and store manager Jeff Plaisanc. The three had been working 20-hour days since Hurricane Katrina struck, and this morning they were poring over their books and making plans on how to keep the gas flowing and the store fully supplied. A franchise of Ace Hardware, Renovations sells items such as toilets, plumbing pipes, refrigerators and generators.
Outside, the gas line was getting restless, with cars stretching more than a mile away from the shop and a police officer monitoring the station's entrance. Men sporting Louisiana State University T-shirts and women in tank tops peered out of the car windows at the gas attendant. "How much you got?" a man shouted from his truck.
"It's at 44 inches," answered Marcie Danos, 19, a ponytailed blonde who was measuring the underground gasoline storage tank with a yardstick. They were still in good shape, she explained. "I know that when it gets to 20 inches, we've got 787 gallons left."
Normally, Renovations receives deliveries totaling some 15,000 gallons of gas each month. But supplies have been tight because of the storm, and Cantrelle said he was not sure when his next shipment would arrive or how large it would be. His gas suppliers had been rationing deliveries, he said.
And even when supplies and products reached the store, Cantrelle worried, customers might not be able to buy them. Due to reach Renovations that morning was a truckload of 60 generators from Wisconsin. But a once-long list of eager buyers was quickly dwindling.
"Everybody's canceling," Cantrelle said. "They're so strapped for money, they're canceling. We're not sure if anyone will now buy them."
Cantrelle was paying about $1,200 for each generator, he said, and hoped to sell them for only $1,300.
"We're not doing any of this now to make money like everybody may think," he said. "We're doing this to get services to our community."
Outside, shortly after 7:30 a.m., Wynn Rousse finally reached the pump. The wife of a local shrimper, Rousse had waited in line for two hours Thursday night in her red Ford pickup, only to be turned away at the last minute when the shop closed early. Now, after waiting patiently for 90 minutes, she filled two five-gallon tanks of gas to take home.
And despite the sign on the pump, Renovations was indeed accepting credit cards -- in a way. With the credit card machines down, Cantrelle had been writing down buyers' card numbers and expiration dates, hoping to collect later.
"We're taking a gamble." Cantrelle said.
Wynn Rousse waits in line for gas -- for the second day in a row -- at Renovations in Galliano, La.