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They had gas, but credit was on empty

Wild post-storm fuel sales pushed Riggins to the brink

Riggins had new customers, but no money coming in, when Sandy’s struck. Paul Riggins, left, with son Matthew.-(AARON HOUSTON)

“We were down to, like, $7,000 in our bank account, and we had, like, $23 million in receivables,” CEO Paul Riggins said. “We had all the trucks and all the fuel, but the suppliers are only going to go so far out with giving you credit.”

Riggins Oil was in a fortunate situation after the storm hit on Oct. 29.

The company’s headquarters were largely spared any direct impact. An emergency generator — the company’s response to Hurricane Irene in 2011, among other storms — kept power flowing for Riggins and his employees. And any of its trucks stationed in low-lying or flood-prone areas had been removed far ahead of Sandy’s first powerful gusts, Riggins said.

So the company’s infrastructure was up and running, which was a huge help. But Riggins had the added benefit of longstanding working relationships with fuel suppliers in multiple states, including Delaware and Pennsylvania.

“Being in the southern part (of the state) and our fleet intact and having the buying arrangements set up — we could just go,” Riggins said. “We were in the right place.”

And the demand was insatiable.

“It was wild. We had literally everybody calling us, begging us for gasoline and diesel. And it was a full range of players, from a service station to government facilities, critical infrastructure sites, hospitals,” Riggins said. “It was one after another after another, and the volume was so unbelievable.”

One of those entities clamoring for gasoline was Union County, which desperately needed gasoline to power its police cars, fire trucks and ambulances, as well as the bulldozers and wood chippers needed to clear debris.

Chris Meehan, director of motor vehicles for Union County, said demand for gasoline surged after the storm. Not only was power down at the county’s fueling stations, but commercial stations were powerless throughout the area, too.

So Riggins, which already had a contract to provide fuel for Union County vehicles, was sending trucks loaded with gasoline up to the area nearly every day for the first two weeks following Sandy.

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