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Gasoline Runs Short, Adding Woes to Storm Recovery

Posted on 02 Nov 2012 by Neilson

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Gas shortagesWidespread gas shortages stirred fears among residents and disrupted some rescue and emergency services as the New York region continued to struggle on Friday to return to a semblance of normalcy after being ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.

Tiny increments of progress, including a second day of limited subway and bus lines, have been made in the aftermath of what officials are calling the worst storm to hit New York City. But they were overshadowed by new estimates of the storm’s financial cost, struggles to restore power, and by the discovery of more bodies in flooded communities.

On Friday, there was sign of progress in the work to restore power as Consolidated Edison announced that electricity should be restored to a small sliver of Lower Manhattan south of the Brooklyn Bridge by midnight. Most of the rest of Manhattan should get power sometime on Saturday.

Four days after Hurricane Sandy, the effort to secure enough gas for the region moved to the forefront of recovery work. The problems affected even New York City, where the Taxi Commission warned that the suddenly indispensable fleet of yellow cabs would thin significantly Friday because of the fuel shortage. City officials said they reached an agreement with a major supplier Thursday night that would ensure that emergency operations — fire, police, sanitation and work by the parks department to clean up downed trees — would continue uninterrupted.

In Union, N.J., the problem was starkly highlighted on Thursday when lines of cars waiting for gas at a Sunoco ran in three directions: a mile-long line up the Garden State Parkway, a half-mile line along Vauxhall Road, and another, including a fleet of mail trucks that needed to refuel before resuming their rounds, snaking through a back entrance. The scene was being replayed across the state as drivers waited in lines that ran hundreds of vehicles deep, requiring state troopers and local police officers to protect against exploding tempers.

“I’ve been pumping gas for 36 hours; I pumped 17,000 gallons,” said Abhishek Soni, the owner of an Exxon in Montclair, where disputes in the line Wednesday night had become so heated that Mr. Soni called the police and turned off the pumps for 45 minutes to restore calm. “My nose, my mouth is bleeding from the fumes. The fighting just makes it worse.”

Commuters have had to adapt to new rules to get to work with ingenuity and patience. On Friday in New York City, subway trains, pressed back onto the rails on Thursday, continued with limited service, with downtown trains in Manhattan going as far as 34th Street before stopping because of power problems there.

For some commuters emerging from the F line at 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue on Friday morning, commuting sounded like solving a geometry problem. Leslie Watson, 43, a supervisor for AM New York, said that he took the M train over the F line but that he’d normally take the E. Car and bus transportation is sketchy, and there are just two local trains running local.

“Yesterday, there were a couple of people from M.T.A. giving out information, but otherwise, like today, you’re on your own,” Mr. Watson said. “Not bad, but not good. My commute was 12 minutes late.”
Commuters started arriving in large numbers between 5 and 5:30 a.m. at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where they got on shuttle buses that would take them to Manhattan and connect them with other stops in the transit system, which has been slowly returning to life since Wednesday.

But East River crossings by private passenger car were reportedly slightly more fluid as drivers apparently realized the authorities meant business when they required cars to carry three passengers or more in order to cross into Manhattan. Staten Island ferry service was scheduled to resume routes.

Though Thursday marked the start of the return to routine for many who commute to work or celebrated the resumption of power, the scenes of long lines, fistfights at gas stations and siphoning at parking lots highlighted the difficult, uneven slog to recovery.

On Friday, the Queens district attorney’s office said a St. Albans man had been arrested after he pointed a pistol at a motorist who complained when he tried to cut a line at a gas station. The man, Sean M. Bailey, 35, was charged with second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and second-degree menacing.

Mr. Bailey tried to pull his BMW ahead of another motorist on a gas line on Astoria Boulevard early on Thursday, the district attorney’s office said.

When the motorist complained, the district attorney’s office said, Mr. Bailey pointed a gun at him and said, “If you don’t pull back, you’re not getting gas tonight.”

City officials have emphasized they want to get the city back on its feet as soon as possible. In another sign of that, officials announced that the Staten Island Ferry would start operating again on Friday.

The death toll in New York City rose to 38, as rescuers continued to discover bodies while combing through coastal wreckage. Among them were the bodies of two boys, 2 and 4, who had been torn from their mother by raging floodwaters on Staten Island on Monday night.

The losses from the storm will approach $50 billion, according to an early estimate from economists at Moody’s Analytics — about $30 billion in property damage, the rest in lost economic activity like meals and canceled flights.

The lack of power continued to bedevil efforts to address the damage. About 43 percent of customers in New Jersey and about 16 percent in New York State remained without electricity.

On Friday, Con Ed officials said that most customers in the southeastern tip of Manhattan were expected to have power by midnight, and that by Saturday, electricity will be restored throughout Manhattan.

Alfonso Quiroz, a spokesman, said that before the end of the day on Friday, power should be restored to the area roughly south of Frankfort Street, which runs along the roadway leading to the Brooklyn Bridge. In that area, customers east of Broadway will have electricity, but those west of Broadway will be restored by Saturday, although some customers there already have power, he said.

Another spokesman, Allan Drury, said power would be restored by Saturday to all customers in Manhattan who lost their service because of Hurricane Sandy,  but other boroughs in New York City would take longer.

The power, commuting and recovery issues were only aggravated by the increasingly short supply of gas, particularly given that many suburban residents in New Jersey and elsewhere were heading to the stations to fuel generators, which provided the lone source of power and heat to homes across the region.

According to figures from AAA, of the gas stations it monitors, roughly 60 percent of stations in New Jersey and 70 percent on Long Island were closed.

At stations that were open, nerves frayed. Fights broke out Thursday at the block-long Hess station on 10th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, forcing the Police Department to send three officers to keep the peace, a police official said. By evening, the police had to close two lanes of the broad thoroughfare to accommodate a line of customers stretching eight blocks, to 37th Street.

The ports and refineries that supply much of the region’s gas had been shut down in advance of the storm and were damaged by it. That disrupted deliveries to gas stations that had power to pump the fuel. But the bigger problem was that many stations and storage facilities remained without power.

Politicians were scrambling Thursday to increase the supply of fuel — the Port of New York and New Jersey opened just enough to allow boats carrying gas to move, and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey waived restrictions that make it harder for stations to buy gas from out-of-state suppliers. Mr.

Christie’s office had warned that price gougers would be prosecuted, but drivers were reporting that some stations were charging more than $4 a gallon, even though the state had set gas prices at $3.59 on the highways last week.

Mr. Christie said Thursday afternoon that President Obama had sent 250,000 gallons of gas and 500,000 gallons of diesel fuel to the state through the Department of Defense, and he pledged to send more if needed.

Despite these steps the situation was not expected to get significantly better on Friday. Utility companies said power might not be fully restored until late next week.

In Paterson, N.J., the state’s third-largest city, the Police Department was trying to negotiate emergency contracts for gas, and short of that, said it would beginning siphoning it from other city vehicles to keep police cruisers running.

The Essex County executive, Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr., said that the fuel shortage had become his No. 1 concern, causing officials to start limiting gas half a tank at a time to police and fire vehicles. “All 22 of our municipalities are having problems getting fuel,” he said. “Everyone’s on edge.”

Some drove hours out of their way, across state lines, in search of gas. Others tried their luck at a dozen stations, finding many roped off, or turned to Twitter, trading tips about where lines were long.

That is how Jason Brown, 25, of St. Albans, Queens, learned there might be gas at a BP station two miles away in Valley Stream, Nassau County. He walked there lugging a five-gallon Igloo cooler hoping to fill it with gas for his car — only to find a line stretching a quarter-mile along Sunrise Highway.

When the generator pumping the gas failed, the crowd erupted into fights and police officers were called in to close the station.

“I’m trying to get gas for my family,” Mr. Brown said. “Everywhere you go, it’s either a riot or there’s no gas.”

The lines themselves only exacerbated the problem; reports in the local media provoked drivers to buy gasoline before stations ran out. Some spent what fuel they had searching for more and could be seen pushing vehicles toward relief.

“I just want to have it, because you don’t know how long this is going to last,” said Richard Bianchi, waiting in the half-mile line at the Sunoco in Union with a tank that was three-quarters full.

“People are panicking,” said Jimmy Qawasmi, the owner of a Mobil in the Westchester County town of Mamaroneck. “People must have heard something.”

Bloomfield Avenue, a traffic artery connecting several towns in Essex County, N.J., was unusually congested as drivers stopped to lean out their windows at every station: “You got gas?” Mr. Soni’s station in Montclair had received a delivery of 8,000 gallons at 4 p.m. Wednesday, but that had run out by 2:30 a.m. Thursday. A tanker truck passed by, prompting a cheer. “I’m empty!” the driver called out.

Up the road, a tanker turned into one gas station just down from where a crowd was waiting at another. The people waiting dashed across the street, only to see the tanker turn and go to the station where they had been waiting. The police were refusing to let the station open for three hours, but people were determined to hold out.

As Benito Domena, holding two gas cans, said: “The wait is just going to be worse elsewhere.”