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Florida warns of fuel contamination as Tropical Storm Idalia approaches

Florida officials warned of “potentially widespread” fuel contamination across the state’s Gulf Coast that could damage car engines and increase the chances of drivers getting stranded as Tropical Storm Idalia approaches.

Fuel purchased from more than two dozen Citgo-supplied gas stations after 10 a.m. Saturday has a high chance of being contaminated by “human error,” the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said in an alert on Sunday afternoon.

The contamination happened after workers at Citgo, which supplies fuel to the greater Tampa area, accidentally switched diesel and gasoline in a shipment to stations on Saturday. Citgo published a list of the 29 stations believed to have received the contaminated fuel, including some as far south as Fort Myers and as far north as Brooksville.

Contaminated gasoline and diesel “have the potential of causing engine damage or affecting operability,” leading to vehicle failures, the alert said. Generators used in the case of storm-related power outages could also be affected.

In the alert, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said it has asked impacted stations to stop selling gas until all contaminated fuel is replaced and tanks cleaned. The agency and Citgo did not immediately respond to an inquiry Sunday evening.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) on Aug. 27 told residents in certain parts of Florida to expect power loss once Tropical Storm Idalia makes landfall. (Video: Reuters)

The announcement came after Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) declared an emergency as the state prepares for Tropical Storm Idalia, which forecasters predict will become a formidable hurricane and make landfall Tuesday into Wednesday.

Hurricane watch issued for Florida Gulf Coast as Idalia gains strength

“You’re going to have people potentially just stuck on the side of the road. I mean, if you fill up your tank with diesel and then you start driving it, it’s not going to end well. So that is a concern,” DeSantis said at a news conference Sunday afternoon.

He said authorities were releasing a list of the affected stations so that anyone who filled up there would know “they probably don’t want to drive their car.” Citgo said anyone concerned they may have been affected can initiate a claim on its website.

The state generally advises residents to keep gas tanks at least half-full during hurricane season to prevent long lines and shortages during evacuations.

The state government has launched an investigation into the fuel contamination, DeSantis said.

State authorities have waived size, weight and hour restrictions of fuel trucks to “get resources into the state as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Kevin Guthrie, executive director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said at the news conference alongside DeSantis.

Guthrie added that they are also coordinating with petroleum retailers, ports and all additional stakeholders to “ensure that this disruption won’t be widespread and that residents can have seamless access to fuel.”

A spokeswoman for Port Tampa Bay, where the contaminated fuel was distributed, clarified that Citgo’s operations are “not under the purview of the port’s authority or oversight,” even though some of their fuel terminals are physically within the port.

The port is in contact with five partner fuel terminal operators and has been “assured they are prepared to deliver fuel and support consumers” despite the storm, Port Tampa Bay spokeswoman Lisa Wolf-Chason said in an email.

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