JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — Wearily cleaning up from the superstorm that battered the state and has left more than 1 million customers still without power, New Jerseyans were handed a new challenge Saturday: rationed gas in the northern part of the state, a system that caused confusion, frustration and desperation.
Gov. Chris Christie ordered the rationing system for 12 counties, saying it would help ease fuel shortages and the long lines at gas stations. 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.
The storm is blamed for 23 deaths in New Jersey. The latest — that of a 44-year-old Hunterdon County man who apparently suffered head injuries while using a chain saw to trim or cut down trees — was announced Saturday afternoon. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was scheduled to visit the state Sunday and view recovery efforts.
More than 1 million homes and businesses across New Jersey remained without electricity Saturday, and many of those customers may not have service restored until Wednesday. Christie released a list of when utilities intend to restore power to each community. Even if they end up working faster or slower, he said, residents will have a sense of when they will have power restored so they can plan their lives a bit better.
A few more steps toward normalcy were taken Saturday. Commuter rail operator New Jersey Transit said it would have more service restored in time for the workweek to start, most of bus service was restored, and about half the state's school districts reported they will reopen Monday.
Christie also said Election Day will go on as planned. If a polling place has no power, votes will be cast on a military truck "old school with a paper ballot," he said. He also announced New Jerseyans would be able to vote by email or fax by submitting a mail-in ballot application available on the state website to their county clerks, and returning it by the close of polls Tuesday.
"We will have a full, fair and transparent open voting process," he said.
On Saturday, fueling up vehicles was the primary goal for many.
Under the rationing system, drivers with license plates ending in an even number can buy gas on even-numbered days, and those with plates ending in an odd number on odd-numbered days. Drivers with vanity plates that have no numbers can buy gas on odd-numbered days.
At one Jersey City Sunoco station, city police officers waved motorists in and out to expedite the process, and they kicked one driver out of line because that person was trying to hold a spot for someone else. One officer said a woman claiming to be pregnant tried to cut the gas line, claiming she was about to deliver, and a pillow popped out of her shirt as she walked around.
Lewis Lockhart, of Newark, drove his black Ford Explorer from Newark before the rationing began because he was nearing empty and couldn't find gas in Newark.
"You're running out of gas to find gas," he said.
Getting gas, Lockhart said, is crucial.
"It's a matter of working and not working," he said.
After noon, an officer kicked drivers with even-numbered plates out of line. New Jersey is one of only two states where motorists are not allowed to pump their own gas, which can exacerbate waits.
At a news conference in Little Ferry, Christie urged residents to follow the rationing system.