Sandy victims run low on fuel and patience
Cars wait in a 30 block long line for gas in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Friday, Nov. 2, 2012. / AP Photo/Seth Wenig
NEW YORK When it came to fuel supplies and patience, the New York tri-state area was running close to empty Friday.
From storm-scarred New Jersey to parts of Connecticut, a widespread lack of gasoline or electricity to pump it brought grousing, gridlock and worse, compounding frustrations as millions of Americans struggled to return to normal days after Superstorm Sandy. Local and federal officials moved in to help control the dwindling supply, including a gas-rationing system based on license plates ordered by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Lines of cars, and in many places queues of people on foot carrying bright red jerry cans for generators, waited for hours for the precious fuel. And those were the lucky ones. Other customers gave up after finding only closed stations or dry pumps marked with yellow tape or "No Gas" signs. In one extreme incident, a man pulled a gun in one gas-line fracas that led to an arrest.
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"EMPTY!" declared the red-type headline dominating the New York Daily News' front page.
"I drove around last night and couldn't find anything," said a relieved Kwabena Sintim-Misa as he finally prepared to fill up Friday morning in Fort Lee, N.J., near the George Washington Bridge, where the wait in line lasted three hours.
Arlend Pierre-Louis of Elmont, on Long Island, said he awoke at 4:30 a.m. to try to get gas.
When he finally found some -- "the one working pump in Elmont" -- the line was so long he gave up and returned to his home, which still has no light or hot water.
At a Hess gas station in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, the 10-block line caused confusion among passing drivers.
"There's been a little screaming, a little yelling. And I saw one guy banging on the hood of a car," said Vince Levine, who got in line in his van at 5 a.m. and was still waiting at 8 a.m. "But mostly it's been OK."
While the snaking lines and frayed nerves revived memories for some of the crippling Arab oil embargo of the 1970s, a cabdriver stuck in a 17-block line at a Manhattan station remained philosophical.
"I don't blame anybody," said Harum Prince. "God, he knows why he brought this storm."
Many tried to heed Mayor Michael Bloomberg's admonition to "have some patience" as the stricken metro area recovers from the unprecedented storm that upended daily life with power outages, food shortages and other frustrations besides lack of fuel.
But tempers boiled over in some places.
Arguments in gas station queues in New York's Queens borough and in Pelham led to arrests, authorities said. In the first case, a man pulled a gun, and in the second police confiscated a box cutter. No one was hurt.
Power outages that lingered across the region prevented some gas stations that had fuel from being able to pump it, officials said. But fuel supplies themselves were badly disrupted by the storm.
Sandy damaged ports that accept fuel tankers and flooded underground equipment that sends fuel through pipelines. Without power, fuel terminals can't pump gasoline onto tanker trucks, and gas stations can't pump fuel into customers' cars.
The Port of New York and New Jersey was slowly starting to accept tankers, but some cargo was being diverted to the Port of Virginia. Federal requirements for low-smog gasoline have been lifted, and fuel trucks are on their way to the area.
Officials said they were working to speed the flow of fuel.
On Friday, the Obama administration ordered the purchase of up to 12 million gallons of unleaded fuel and up to 10 million gallons of diesel fuel for distribution in areas affected by the storm to supplement private-sector efforts. It will be transported by tanker trucks to New York, New Jersey and other damaged communities.
In addition, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano temporarily waived a maritime rule to allow foreign oil tankers coming from the Gulf of Mexico to enter Northeastern ports. The action, she said, would "remove a potential obstacle to bringing additional fuel to the storm-damaged region."
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