Gasoline rationing imposed in New Jersey
Fuel supplies headed toward disaster zones in the Northeast on Saturday, and a million customers regained electricity, but worsening scenes of frustration and desperation played out at gas stations as Gov. Chris Christie imposed rationing that recalled the worst days of the shortages of the 1970s.
Dipping temperatures added to the misery of those without power, heat or gasoline for nearly five days because of superstorm Sandy. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged older residents without heat to move to shelters and said 25,000 blankets were being distributed across the city.
“We're New Yorkers, and we're going to get through it,” the mayor said. “But I don't want anyone to think we're out of the woods.”
Bloomberg said that resolving gas shortages could take days. Lines snaked around gas stations for many blocks all over the stricken region, prompting the Defense Department to set up emergency mobile fuel stations to distribute free fuel, with a 10-gallon limit per person.
At a gas giveaway station in Queens, more than 400 cars stretched for more than a dozen blocks, with one tanker filling cars one at a time. The 5,000-gallon federal trucks had been dispatched to five locations around the New York City metropolitan area.
“Do not panic. I know there is anxiety about fuel,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
Hours later, after the long lines formed, state officials said the public should stay away from the refueling stations until emergency responders got their gas. National Guard Col. Richard Goldenberg added, however, that those who were at the distribution sites would not be turned away.
Perhaps nowhere was the scene more confused than at a refueling station in Brooklyn, where the National Guard gave out free gasoline. There, a mass of honking cars, desperate drivers and people on foot, carrying containers from empty bleach bottles to five-gallon Poland Spring water jugs, was just the latest testament to the misery unleashed by Sandy.
“It's chaos; it's pandemonium out here,” said Chris Damon, 42, who had been waiting for 3½ hours at the site and had circled the block five times. “It seems like nobody has any answers.”
Added Damon: “I feel like a victim of Hurricane Katrina. I never thought it could happen here in New York, but it's happened.”
Gasoline rationing went into effect at noon in 12 counties of northern New Jersey, where police enforced rules to allow only motorists with odd-numbered license plates to refuel. Those with even-numbered plates would get their turn Sunday.
Jessica Tisdale of Totowa waited in her Mercedes SUV for 40 minutes at a gas station in Jersey City, but didn't quite understand the system and was ordered to pull away because of her even-numbered plate.
“Is it the number or the letter?” she asked about 12:10 p.m. “I don't think it's fair. I've been in the line since before noon. ... There's no clarity.”
The officer who waved her out of line threw up his hands and shrugged.
Christie said the rationing would help ease fuel shortages and the long lines. It was to remain in place as long as Christie deemed a need for it, which he said he hoped would be no more than a few days.
Christie announced that Election Day would go on as planned, but that residents displaced by Sandy could vote by email or fax.
A resident must submit a mail-in ballot application by fax or email to the local county clerk. When the request is received, a ballot will be emailed or faxed back. Ballots must be returned no later than 8 p.m. Tuesday.
More than 2.6 million people remained without power in several states after Sandy came ashore Monday night.
About 900,000 people still didn't have electricity in the New York metropolitan area, including about 550,000 on Long Island, Cuomo said. About 80 percent of New York City's subway service has been restored, he added.
The restoration of power beat the sunrise Saturday in the West Village, prompting screams of sweet relief from residents . Electricity arrived at 4:23 a.m., said Adam Greene, owner of Snack Taverna, a popular eatery.
“This morning, I took a really long, hot shower,” he said.
Greene said one woman had stopped in Saturday to drop off $10 for the staff, saying she regretted she didn't have enough cash to tip adequately during the blackout.
Throughout the West Village, people were emerging from their hibernation, happy to regain their footing. Stores started to reopen. Signs at a Whole Foods Market promised that fresh meat and poultry and baked goods would return on Sunday.
Aida Padilla was thrilled that the power at her large housing authority complex in Chelsea had returned late Friday.
“Thank God,” said Padilla, 75. “I screamed, and I put the lights on. Everybody was screaming. It was better than New Year's.”