Petrol stations from Florida to Virginia began running dry and prices at the pump rose on Tuesday, as the shutdown of the biggest US fuel pipeline by hackers extended into a fifth day and sparked panic buying by motorists. The administration of US President Joe Biden projected that the Colonial Pipeline, source of nearly half the fuel supply on the US East Coast, would restart in a few days and urged drivers not to top up their tanks. “We are asking people not to hoard,” US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told reporters at the White House. “Things will be back to normal soon.” Colonial was shut on Friday after hackers launched a ransomware attack – effectively locking up its computer systems and demanding payment to release them. The company said it is making progress and hopes to restart a substantial portion of operations by week’s end. The company said it has taken delivery of an additional 2 million barrels from refineries for deployment upon restart. “Markets experiencing supply constraints and/or not serviced by other fuel delivery systems are being prioritised,” Colonial said in a statement. The outage, which has underscored the vulnerability of vital US infrastructure to cyberattacks, has already started to hurt. Over 20 per cent of metro Atlanta filling stations are without petrol, tracking firm GasBuddy said, adding that about 7.5 per cent of stations in Virginia and 5 per cent in North Carolina had no fuel on Tuesday as demand jumped 20 per cent. Unleaded petrol, meanwhile, neared an average US$2.99 a gallon, its highest price since November 2014, the American Automobile Association said. Colonial said it made recent deliveries to parts of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland and New Jersey. Why the US Colonial Pipeline hack is a big deal In an effort to ease the strain on consumers, Georgia suspended sales tax on gas until Saturday, and North Carolina declared an emergency. The federal government, meanwhile, has loosened rules to make it easier for suppliers to refill storage, including lifting seasonal anti-smog requirements for petrol and allowing fuel truckers to work longer hours. Granholm said there is not a shortage but a petrol supply “crunch” in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Southern Virginia, regions that typically rely on Colonial for fuel. Driver Caroline Richardson said she was paying US$0.15 more per gallon than a week ago as she refuelled at a gas station in Sumter, South Carolina. “I know some friends who decided not to go out of town this weekend to save gas,” she said. The strike on Colonial “is potentially the most substantial and damaging attack on US critical infrastructure ever,” Ohio Senator Rob Portman told a Senate hearing on cybersecurity threats on Tuesday. The FBI has accused a shadowy criminal gang called DarkSide of the ransomware attack. DarkSide is believed to be based in Russia or Eastern Europe and avoids targeting computers that use languages from former Soviet republics, cyber experts say. Russia’s embassy in the United States rejected speculation that Moscow was behind the attack. Biden a day earlier said there was no evidence so far that Russia was responsible. A statement issued in DarkSide’s name on Monday said: “Our goal is to make money, and not creating problems for society.” It is unknown how much money the hackers are seeking, and Colonial has not commented on whether it would pay. “Cyberattacks on our nation’s infrastructure are growing more sophisticated, frequent and aggressive,” Brandon Wales, acting director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), said on Tuesday at a Senate hearing on the SolarWinds hack that hit companies and government agencies.