Lights in lower Manhattan, misery in outer regions

By JOCELYN NOVECK and MICHAEL RUBINKAM Published: November 4, 2012
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The lights went back on Saturday in lower Manhattan, prompting screams of sweet relief from residents who'd been plunged into darkness for nearly five days by Superstorm Sandy. But the joy contrasted with deepening resentment in the city's outer boroughs and suburbs over a continued lack of power and maddening gas shortages

Lines snaked around gas stations for many blocks all over the stricken region, including northern New Jersey, where the governor imposed rationing that recalled the worst days of fuel shortages of the 1970s.

But nowhere was the scene more confused than at a refueling station in Brooklyn, where the National Guard gave away free gas. 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, who had been waiting for 3 1 / 2 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.”

Damon, 42, had already been displaced to Brooklyn from his home in Queens, where he still lacked power, as did millions outside Manhattan — from Staten Island, the hardest-hit borough, to Westchester County and other suburban areas.

Domingo Isasi was in a gas line in Staten Island, and minced no words about the divide between Manhattan and the outer boroughs.

“The priorities are showing, simply by the fact that Manhattan got their power back,” he said, adding that Staten Islanders are used to being lower on the list.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said resolving the gas shortages could take days.

At a giveaway station in Queens, the scene was calmer but not happier. Hundreds of cars stretched more than a dozen blocks, with one tanker filling cars one at a time. A police car pulled alongside one car about 250th in line, and told the driver they hoped there would still be gas by the time he got there.

The 5,000-gallon trucks from the Defense Department were 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, New York state officials said the public should stay away from the refueling stations until emergency responders first got their gas and more supplies were made available. National Guard Col. Richard Goldenberg added, however, that those who were already at the distribution sites would not be turned away.

Gas rationing went into effect at noon in 12 counties of northern New Jersey, where police began enforcing rules to allow only motorists with odd-numbered license plates to refuel. Those with even-numbered plates must wait until 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 around 12:10 p.m. “I don't think it's fair. I've been in the line since before noon. I don't think it's fair. There's no clarity.”

The officer who waved her out of line threw up his hands and shrugged.

At an Exxon station in Wall, N.J., Kathryn Davidson, who had an even-numbered plates, got gas anyway by beating the noon deadline.

“How are people supposed to know?” said Davidson, 53, who said it reminded her of the 1970s, when a similar plan was in place.

“There were fistfights and everything. It got nasty,” she recalled. “Everyone seems pretty pleasant as of right now.”

President Barack Obama visited the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for an update on superstorm recovery efforts and said “there's nothing more important than us getting this right.”

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