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Why you're seeing long lines at gas stations right now

Experts have urged calm as gas stations report long lines and fuel shortages from Maryland to Florida following a cyberattack on the nation's largest fuel pipeline.
/ Source: TODAY

Experts are urging people not to panic as motorists face long lines at gas stations from Maryland to Florida in the wake of the crippling cyberattack on the company that operates a pipeline that delivers nearly half of all the refined fuel to the East Coast.

North Carolina, Florida, Virginia and Georgia have issued emergency declarations, with more than 1,700 gas stations along the East Coast reportedly out of fuel, according to GasBuddy's Patrick De Haan.

Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline announced Tuesday that it expects to have much of its service restored by the weekend after the nation's largest fuel pipeline had to shut down on May 7 following a cyberattack attributed to ransomware called DarkSide. The attack is believed to have been carried out by a Russian cybercrime gang using the same name, according to the FBI.

Just days after the attack, drivers have reported waits of more than an hour to refuel in parts of some states, while gas prices are at their highest level nationwide in seven years.

Gas stations in Atlanta began to run out of gasoline after motorists rushed to fill up on Tuesday. Megan Varner / Getty Images

NBC News national correspondent Tom Llamas surveyed the scene at a gas station in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Tuesday as drivers were bumper to bumper in a long line waiting for their time at the pump.

"All the gas stations closer to where I live are completely empty," one woman said.

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Another driver equated it to the panic that caused a toilet paper shortage at the beginning of the pandemic.

Some stations in South Carolina were turning cars away on Tuesday saying they were all out of gas, while nearly 40% of gas stations in metro Atlanta are out of fuel, according to GasBuddy.

The White House and experts are calling for calm and asking people not to hoard gas if they don't need it. The issue is not a shortage, but a distribution problem, according to AAA spokesperson Andrew Gross.

"It's just getting the gasoline from point A to point B, and we're going to get this situation fixed," Gross told Llamas on TODAY Wednesday.

The long lines and higher prices come as roughly 34 million Americans plan to hit the road for Memorial Day weekend at the end of the month to kick off summer.

The White House has urged people to contact their state attorney general if they see any gas stations price gouging, while AAA has travel tips to help avoid waiting in long lines at the pump. The organization suggests planning ahead to get errands done in one trip, avoiding busy traffic times if possible, and decreasing the car's weight and limiting air conditioner use to reduce fuel consumption.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on Wednesday offered guidance on Twitter, including messages that read, “Do not fill plastic bags with gasoline” and, “Use only containers approved for fuel.”