The Defense Department has begun to set up mobile fuel stations around the New York metro area to distribute 12 million gallons of gasoline and 10 million gallons of diesel to run generators. The gas — up to 10 gallons per person — is free.
When word spread Saturday, people rushed to handout stations around the region.
Tatiana Gomez from Staten Island heard about the giveaway on the news while having breakfast.
"I left my coffee on the table and ran out," she said.
She arrived at 9:30 a.m. and was the sixth car in line. It was still a 2½ hour wait before she got her allotment.
That's because the tanker arrived later than expected. Then the National Guard struggled at first to hook the pumper truck to the tanker. Once the pumps did open, gas had to be given first to emergency responders, then the public.
In Staten Island, drivers seemed to be taking the long wait with calm. Sammy Cruz waited for three hours Saturday and still had 20 cars in front of him.
"People are happy to be getting something," he said. "Nobody's complaining."
National Guardsmen were walking through the crowd, handing out bottles of water to those waiting. Some people jokingly tried to place orders for coffee or lunch as the Guardsmen passed.
"I think since 9/11 we've pulled together as people," Robert Costantino said while waiting for fuel. "Now, when there's a crisis, we pull together."
In some areas of Brooklyn, tension was more evident.
"It's pandemonium out here," said Chris Damon, who was waiting among hundreds, many honking their horns. "I feel like a victim of Hurricane Katrina. I never thought it could happen here in New York, but it's happened."
When Damon started out, he had a half tank of gas. During the long wait, National Guard troops had him circle the block several times. His fuel level fell nearly to a quarter-tank.
Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service said drivers seem to fear that stations will be out of gas for a week or more. But the problem will be long over, he said, by the time many people would normally need to fill up.
"There are some people who need it, but there are a lot of people who are panicking," Kloza said. "There's plenty of fuel. This will be over in days."
Associated Press writers Eileen AJ Connelly in Staten Island and Michael Rubinkam in Brooklyn contributed to this report.
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