Hungry, weary New Yorkers with flooded homes and no power for days are begging officials for help as motorists are becoming increasingly desperate for gas — waiting in line at the pump for hours, and in one case, pulling a gun to get fuel.
With gasoline supplies scarce, many stations in and around the tri-state closed up shop while stations still open drew long lines of cars that spilled out onto roadways.
Cabdriver Harum Prince joined a nearly mile-long line for gasoline Friday in Manhattan after already spending three hours in a similar queue in the Bronx — only to have the station run out of gas when it was almost his turn.
“I don’t blame anybody,” he said. “God, he knows why he brought this storm.”
Sandy damaged 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 Port of New York and New Jersey was slowly starting to accept tankers, but some cargo was being diverted to the Port of Virginia. Federal requirements for low-smog gasoline have been lifted, and fuel trucks are on their way to the area.
New York Harbor had been closed after the storm, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it was now open and tankers are now coming in.
Cuomo told New Yorkers not to panic and said millions of gallons of fuel were arriving Friday. He said he had also waived the state-required registration and tax for fuel tankers to speed up the delivery process.
“I don’t want to lose the money but we do want to accelerate the flow of gasoline,” Cuomo said. “There should be a real change in condition and people should see it quickly.”
The Department of Homeland Security is also temporarily waiving some maritime rules to allow foreign oil tankers coming from the Gulf of Mexico to enter Northeastern ports. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she is waiving the Jones Act, which prohibits international cargo ships from transporting oil between U.S. ports, until Nov. 13.
Winston Alfred, a courier who needs his van to make deliveries, was second in line when the pumps ran dry at 8:30 a.m. Friday in Brooklyn.
Police allowed drivers near the front of the line to park in case a tanker came to the Gowanus area station. The station clerk had called the company about getting a tanker. But he hadn’t heard back yet.
About a mile away, in Sunset Park, people had been in line at another Hess station since 11 p.m. Thursday. The line stretched 2½ miles.
Besides the drivers, both stations attracted lines of people holding gas cans for their generators.
Throughout the region, millions of customers are still without power. With much of downtown Manhattan still in the dark, Con Edison said most customers in that part of the city likely would have it back this weekend.
Others still enduring outages would likely not have service restored until next weekend, and customers in the hardest hit areas could be without power for a week beyond that or even longer, the utility said.
Mayor Bloomberg said Friday that school, which has been out for a week, would resume Monday, but said as many as 40 school buildings will likely not have power and won’t be able to open until later in the week.
About 5,500 people are still staying in 15 city shelters, the mayor said.
The city is distributing meals and bottled water in hard-hit areas through Sunday. Word of that emergency help came Thursday as NBC 4 New York found people digging through Dumpsters for food in the East Village, and as Staten Island residents said they were desperate for supplies.
Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro suggested that people not donate money to the American Red Cross because the Red Cross “is nowhere to be found.”
“We have hundreds of people in shelters throughout Staten Island,” he said. “Many of them, when the shelters close, have nowhere to go because their homes are destroyed. These are not homeless people. They’re homeless now.”
Josh Lockwood, the Red Cross’ regional chief executive, said 10 trucks began arriving to Staten Island on Thursday morning and a kitchen was set up to distribute meals. Lockwood defended the agency, saying relief workers were stretched thin.
The city said Friday that tap water in Breezy Point, Queens, was not drinkable and that all residents should drink bottled water until further notice. Boiling it does not make it safe, officials said.
The tri-state death toll reached a grim milestone on Thursday, surpassing 50 with the confirmation of more fatalities on Staten Island.
The bodies of two young boys, 2 and 4, were among those found Thursday. Their mother told police that they were swept away by rising waters during the storm.
New Jersey got the brunt of Sandy, which made landfall in the state and killed 14 people there. About 1.5 million customers were without power Thursday, down from a peak of 2.7 million.
Gov. Chris Christie says utility workers from other states will be coming to speed up the restoration of power.
The governor said Thursday he emphasized to state utility leaders that they needed to throw away “whatever playbooks” they had been using.
He says federal authorities are setting up temporary housing for all the out-of-state utility workers.
Throughout the region, frustrated commuters endured long lines at bridges and subway transfer points.
Traffic snarled on bridges leading into Manhattan as police set up checkpoints to make sure three occupants were in cars traveling into the city — a rule aimed at reducing road congestion. Bloomberg said that order would end at 5 p.m. on Friday, but could be reinstated if Monday’s commute was just as bad.
Subway service got its second morning commute test Friday, but it was spotty — there are no trains below 34th Street in Manhattan, an area still largely without power, and buses are supplementing service between Manhattan and Brooklyn.