PETROL panic brought chaos across Hartlepool as motorists rushed to the pumps over fears supplies could run dry after tanker drivers voted to strike.
Large queues could be seen at petrol stations across town and east Durham from early yesterday morning as drivers filled up.
There were similar scenes this morning, with queues forming at some garages as early as 7am.
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The Government came under fire after ministers advised people to fill up their tanks when they are half empty, despite a potential strike date not even being confirmed.
A Mail poll revealed that 68 per cent of readers are against a strike.
Ministers were today discussing emergency plans to deal with a strike with haulier bosses.
Energy Secretary Ed Davey was leading the talks as the Government continues to face serious criticism of its handling of the threatened industrial action.
Conciliation talks aimed at heading off the walkout will not be held before Monday once initial contacts with the Unite union and the seven distribution firms have been concluded by Acas.
Supermarket chains said they have experienced an increase in sales, but eased fears that fuel could be running low, saying they are well prepared and have strong supplies.
Asda, Morrisons and Tesco petrol stations all experienced long queues throughout the day and the two petrol stations on the A19 at Easington had to close down some pumps.
A Tesco spokeswoman said: “Customers are putting more fuel in their cars and we are experiencing an increase in sales in some areas. But customers can be reassured that the fuel supply chain is working hard to meet increased demand.”
A spokesman for Morrisons, which has petrol stations in Clarence Road and Belle Vue Way, Hartlepool, added: “There have been no outages at any of our sites.
“We are well prepared and have strong supplies, so there is no need for customers to buy more fuel than they normally would.”
The AA has advised that motorists should follow their normal buying patterns and no shortage should come about.
An Asda spokeswoman said: “There is no reason for customers to panic buy. We are advising people to follow the advice of the AA. People will get seven days notice ahead of any strike action.”
In other areas of the country petrol stations even had to close temporarily due to the huge queues.
Shell garages on either side of the A19 at Easington were forced to close pumps. The northbound service station closed four pumps while the southbound station was forced to close seven yesterday afternoon.
The Government’s Cabinet Minister Francis Maude advised drivers to store petrol in a jerrycan earlier this week, a comment that was later withdrawn as a mistake and condemned by fire chiefs.
Cleveland Fire Brigade today issued safety advice and warned people not to store fuel due to the increased risk.
Phil Lancaster, director of community protection, said: “Storing petrol in your home greatly increases the risk of fire and the potential of fire spreading rapidly, particularly if it is stored near an ignition source. For those people who choose to ignore this advice, there are legal requirements and local guidelines to follow.”
For further information and guidance people can call Hartlepool Borough Council’s petroleum licensing officer on (01429) 523354.