Gasoline stations in the Washington area were the scene of panic buying, traffic jams and occasional fist fights yesterday as motorist - apparently concerned about reports of a weekend shortage - rushed to fill their tanks.
By noon, many stations already have closed after pumping the daily proportion of their monthly fuel allocation in order to stretch supplies through the month.
The American Automobile Association estimated that 80 percent of the service stations in the area would be open today, but many are expected to close early. A virtually gasless Sunday is anticipated here.
"There were more lines than anticipated and more closings," said Glenn Lashley, a spokesman for the D.C. branch of AAA.
"It's California East today," said one Connecticut Avenue BP attendant.
In the sweltering heat yesterday, some motorists who could find service stations open were forced to wait in lines for as long as an hour before they could put gas in their tanks.
And when motorists could find service stations open, they were paying as much as $1.02 for premium, 95 cents for unleaded and 87 cents for regular.
"I started driving down Georgia Avenue from Walter Reed Hospital, and there was only one service station open and its lines were longer than this one," said John Harris, a cook at the hospital, who waited more than 45 minutes in a line of cars that stretched onto Rhode Island Avenue near Seventh Street.
Herbert Pomerantz, who drove into Washington yesterday from New York to tour the nation's capital, discovered even before he reached his hotel that the Washington gas squeeze was on.
He, along with more than 20 motorists, waited in front of the Exxon station at 101 Florida Ave. NW for more than 45 minutes for the service station manager to returen.
At 5:20 p.m., the rumor still was circulating that the station was to have opened at 4:30 p.m.
"I don't even have enough gas to get to my hotel much less to do any touring of Washington. And how am I going to get back to New York?" Pomerantz asked.
Pomerantz was not the only motorist stranded.
"I am on E (empty) and I have people waiting for me back at Rap Inc." said Michael Coghill, who teaches graphics at the drug rehabilitation center.
In Fairfax County yesterday, police reported that several fist fights occured at gasoline stations when impatient motorists tried to cut into long lines.
At 8 a.m. yesterday, District of Columbia police were called to a BP station on Connecticut Avenue where lines of cars were blocking a bus lane. As police began to move the cars, two motorists seized the opportunity to cut into the lines.
According to witnesses, one of the culprits pulled in front of a "very heavy set man" who angrily jumped from his car, opened the door of the line-jumper "and began to curse royally."
"Only the driver's white hair may have saved him from violence," the witness said.
"I think people are stone crazy. They are panic buying. We have given them a $10 limit and everybody is taking it," said one service station manager.
On Wisconsin Avenue, where most of the service stations were closed, Robert Conley, manager of the Scot service station at Davenport Street said: "We were out of gas half the day. A lot of people have been topping off. They are panic buying because they heard it on the radio."
Lashley, of AAA, said the weekend outlook for motorists leaving the Washington area will be much tighter this weekend than last.
On the Delaware Turnpike, motorists will be limited to gasoline purchases of $3 to $4, but service stations will be open 24 hours.
In Ocean City, Lashley said, 91 percent of the service stations will be open. And on the New York Thruway, service stations should be open 24 hours.
Those motorists driving south will find no problems getting gas in North and South Carolina, Lashley added. CAPTION: Picture, A man waiting in line at a station at 13th and L Streets NW puts a gallon into his tank so he can get to the pump. Other waiting customers watch. By James A. Parcell - The Washington Post