Gasoline shortage intensified in the Washington area yeasterday as more service stations closed earlier, lines of waiting cars grew longer and commuters scrambled harder for enough fuel to last throughtout the weekend.
Motorists jockeyed for places in ever-lengthening lines with occasional fist-shaking and angry complaints. Tempers flared from Gaithersburg to Manassas in the third straight day of muggy heat. Police occasionally intervened and helped dealers turn away customers when service stations closed.
In the Bethesda area alone, for example, four of 12 stations surveyed were closed by noon. Three were limiting customers to $5 purchases, and all but one were planning other curtailments, including closing all day tomorrow.
During the rush hour yesterday afternoon, police reported unusually heavy tie-ups caused by gas lines at scattered points thourghout the area. Especially hard hit were Rte, 450 near the Capital Beltway and Greenbelt Road near Kenilworth Avenue in Prince George's County.
Station closings by some operators, however, simply lengthened the lines at the stations that remained open.
"It's kind of a crisis situation," said Dave Brucato, manager of the Exxon station at Zion Drive and Ox Road near Fairfax City, as he stood at one of his closed pumps at mid-morning. Entrance to his station was blocked by tire racks and a tow truck.
"People are worried about getting gas," not the price, Brucato said. "You're getting an effect from California"-a reference to the widely reported odd-even day fuel rationing implemented in several California counties earlier this week.
Here yesterday, the lines grew longer in the late afternoon as homeward-bound commuters tried to jam into those service stations that were still open. The outlook is even bleaker for the weekend.
The American Automobile Association estimates 14 percent of the Washington area's 1,200 stations will be closed all day today and 61 percent will be closed by 6 p.m. The AAA said 86 percent of the area stations will be closed all day Sunday-an estimate close to the 90 percent figure predicted by Vic Rasheed, executive director of the Washington-Maryland Service Station Association.
While most stations spotchecked by The Washington Post said they plan to close Sunday, a few said they would stay open.
"we'll be open 24 hours a day straight through the weekend," said a cashier at the Merit station at 6th Street and Florida Avenue NE.
A manager of a self-service Exxon station at 22d Street and Alabama Avenue SE said he, too, plans to operate 24 hours a day, but he could do it only by limiting gasoline purchases to $2 a customer-one of the lowest limits found in the Washington area.
The scramble for fuel created some humorous and occasionally grim scenes. An angry motorist on upper Wisconsin Avenue NW, who nearly rammed a car that had run out of gas, jumped from his own car, took a swipe at the driver of the stalled car and then drove off.
At an Amoco station at Pennsylvania and Minnesota avenues SE, a man was observed pumping regular gas into his no-lead tank through a child's plastic horn. Tanks for no-lead gas are designed with a small aperture to prevent use of regular gas nozzles.
Arlington police reported traffic jams in the late afternoon "where-ever there's a gas station open." Station operators, trying to close their pumps, had difficulty turning customers away.
In Washington, Mike Greenberg, operator of the Amoco at 13th and N streets NW, said, "We just had to turn off the lights and call a policeman."
Greenberg, like many other operators, said he has been closing early for the last several days, not because he's run out of fuel but because he wants to conserve supplies for future days until his underground storage tanks are replenished by the oil company distributor.
"I'm saving gas for Monday," Greenberg said yesterday, "so I can sell to my regular customers then."
The operator of four stations in the city, Greenberg stood outside his station at 401 Florida Ave. NE at 12:30 p.m. yesterday as attendants closed down the pumps and began waving would-be customers away.
"I've got to serve our regular customers when Monday comes," he explained. "Some of them have been with us since we opened here in 1963."
Other operators acknowledged they allow "special" or "regular" customers to fill up even when their stations are ostensibly closed.
Carlos Bond, owner of the Westbard station at 5471 Westbard Ave. in Bethesda, said he closes during the rush hour and puts up a "No Gas" sign, which neighborhood regulars ignore.
Crowd and traffic control was a problem around service stations throughout the day, and when police were not available to unscramble things, station operators did the best they could on their own.
Glen Echo Exxon station owner Tony Nastus at Goldsboro Road and Macarthur Boulevard said store owners in the adjacent Glen Echo Shopping Center complained that cars in line for gas prevented customers from getting in and out of the shopping center parking lot.
"I can't play cop," said Nastus, complaining that customers refused to heed his instructions. "One guy came in from the wrong direction. I told him to back up and get in line. Instead, he just shut off his engine and took the key out of the ignition. He said he'd move when the tank was full."
Nastus said he filled the tank rather than invite trouble.
The governors of Maryland and Virginia and the mayor of the District of Columbia have agreed to a jointly coordinated standby gasoline allocation plan similar to the one in effect in California, but officials here stressed that they are not on the brink of implementing the plan.
The plan would require motorists driving vehicles with odd-numbered license tags to buy gas only on odd days of the month and those with even numbers to buy on even-numbered days. Motorists would also be required to make a $5 minimum purcahse.
Officials said it is difficult to determine if gasoline will be more plentiful in outlying areas away from metropolitan Washington this weekend.
American Automobile Association spokesman Bill Zorzi in Baltimore said, however, that a AAA survey indicates about 60 percent of gas stations in Maryland (except Montgomery and Prince George's counties) will be open Sunday - in contrast to only 10 or 15 percent in the immediate Washington area. CAPTION: Picture 1, Tyrone Newman of Maryland purchases the amount allowed at a Virginia station while other motorists line up in rows awaiting their turn at the pumps. By Gerald Martineau-The Washington Post; Picture 2, Policemen oversee the entrance to an Arlington gas station yesterday to help the operators close early. By Gerald Martineau-The Washington Post; Picture 3, Tom Bee, an employee of Beltway Shell in Silver Spring, shuts down a gas pump. By Fred Sweets-The Washington Post