By STAN LEHMAN, Associated Press
SAO PAULO (AP) — Sao Paulo's 2,000 gas stations are rapidly running out of fuel as a strike by truck drivers who haul gas in South America's largest city completed a second day, according to business representatives.
A state court judge ruled late Tuesday, however, that the must strike end, but it was not clear if that order would be obeyed by the truckers.
Truckers are protesting the city government's attempt to restrict where big trucks can drive in a metropolis infamous for streets that are congested at all hours.
Jose Gouveia, president of an association representing gas station owners said almost all stations were hit by the strike.
"They're either running low or are completely out of gas and ethanol," he told reporters. "I expect all of them will be completely out of fuel By the end of the day."
Shell station manager Marcelo Fernandes said all his gas and ethanol ran out at 9 a.m. and that he stood to lose about $15,000 in sales for every 24 hours that his tanks were empty.
"They're killing us, the government has got to give in to the guys. In the best-case scenario, if they ended the strike now, I don't think I would get any fuel before Thursday," said Fernandes, standing inside his station in Sao Paulo's chic Jardins neighborhood.
Martin Santos pulled his metallic silver Honda Civic into the Shell station and was shocked to discover there was no gas to buy.
"The mayor has got to get his act together or this city is going to be complete chaos," he said. "There has to be a compromise. Sao Paulo lives by these truckers, they deliver all our gas, food, everything."
Local media reported drivers were forming lines at some gas stations, but in central Sao Paulo there were none to be seen: it appeared most stations had run out of gas so there was nothing to line up for.
The vice president of the Sao Paulo Truck Drivers Union said all 800 of the city's tanker truck drivers joined the strike.
Claudinei Pelegrini said the strike affects the city's fleet of more than 7 million cars and also the more than 5 million people who use the public bus system every day to get to and from work since "truckers are not delivering fuel to bus companies."
The union that represents the city's bus companies said its members had enough fuel to last until Wednesday.
Pelegrini said independent truck drivers transport at least 90 percent of the fuel in Sao Paulo. To make matters worse, he said truckers who transport food and construction material were expected to join the strike by Wednesday.
Fuel deliveries for all emergency services are guaranteed by the union he said.
"The strike does not affect deliveries to airports, hospitals and police and fire stations," he said.
State court judge Emilio Migliano Neto ruled Tuesday night that the strike end or that unions involved face a daily fine of $565,000, according to the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper. After hours calls to the court were not answered.
The new restrictions on where trucks can drive limit the hours some of the city's highways can be used by truckers. It also forces them to use alternative routes that "increase transportation costs and the amount of time it takes to deliver the product," Pelegrini said.
The city's transportation department said in a statement that it 'vehemently repudiates" the strike and that police have been asked to protect non-striking truckers who have been threatened."
Both Gouveia and Pelegrini said truckers would return to work if the restrictions are made more flexible.
Repeated phone calls for comment from city officials went unanswered.
Associated Press writer Bradley Brooks contributed to this report.
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