Gas stations scramble in Sandy's aftermath

Associated Press Modified: November 2, 2012 at 12:00 am •  Published: November 1, 2012
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NEW YORK (AP) — There's plenty of gasoline in the Northeast — just not at gas stations.

In parts of New York and New Jersey, drivers lined up Thursday for hours at gas stations that were struggling to stay supplied. The power outages and flooding caused by Superstorm Sandy have forced many gas stations to close and disrupted the flow of fuel from refineries to those stations that are open.

At the same time, millions of gallons of gasoline are sitting at the ready in storage tanks, pipelines and tankers that can't unload their cargoes.

"It's like a stopped up drain," said Tom Kloza, Chief Oil Analyst at the Oil Price Information Service.

For people staying home or trying to restart a business, the scene wasn't much brighter: Millions were in the dark and many will remain so for days. As of Thursday, 4.5 million homes were without power, down from a peak of 8.5 million. The New Jersey utility Public Service Electric & Gas said it will restore power to most people in 7 to 10 days. Consolidated Edison, which serves New York City and Westchester County, said most customers will have power by Nov. 11, but some might have to wait an additional week or longer.

Superstorm Sandy found a host of ways to cripple the region's energy infrastructure. Its winds knocked down power lines and its floods swamped electrical substations that send power to entire neighborhoods. It also mangled 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 Energy Department reported Thursday that 13 of the region's 33 fuel terminals were closed. Sections of two major pipelines that serve the area — the Colonial Pipeline and the Buckeye Pipeline — were also closed.

Thousands of gas stations in New Jersey and Long Island were closed because of a lack of power. AAA estimates that 60 percent of the stations in New Jersey are shut along with up to 70 percent of the stations in Long Island.

Thursday morning the traffic to a Hess station on 9th Avenue in New York City filled two lanes of the avenue for two city blocks. Four police officers were directing the slow parade of cars into the station.

A few blocks away, a Mobil station sat empty behind orange barricades, with a sign explaining it was out of gas.

Taxi and car service drivers were running dry — and giving up, even though demand for rides was high because of the crippled public transit system. Northside Car Service in Williamsburg, Brooklyn has 250 drivers available on a typical Thursday evening. Today they had just 20. "The gas lines are too long," said Thomas Miranda, an operator at Northside.

Betty Bethea, 59, waited nearly three hours to get to the front of the line at a Gulf station in Newark, but she brought reinforcements: Her kids were there with gas cans, and her husband was behind her in his truck.

Bethea had tried to drive to her job at a northern New Jersey Kohl's store on Thursday morning, only to find her low-fuel light on. She and her husband crisscrossed the region in search of gas and were shooed away by police at every closed station she encountered.