Just days after Hurricane Sandy blew through the Northeast, leaving huge swaths of New York City powerless and flooded, anger is rising among residents as shortages in food, gasoline and basic supplies begin to take their toll.
In what is becoming a case study for why disaster preparedness is so vital, state troopers are being deployed in greater numbers at gas stations along the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway, where stocks of gasoline are beginning to run low, causing frayed nerves and high angst on the third full day of massive power outages that industry analysts don’t expect will be fixed too soon.
Fox News and other outlets are reporting that frustration with dwindling supplies of gasoline and other necessities of life is beginning to boil over in the tri-state region of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the states hardest hit by superstorm Sandy-caused power outages.
“Residents jockeyed for fuel at the few stations still pumping, searched store shelves in vain for batteries, struggled with sporadic cell phone service and found themselves unable to buy necessities at supermarkets,” Fox News reported.
In statements released to reporters, New Jersey State Police officials said their officers would be deployed in conjunction with local police, “to ensure safety and security.”
“Troopers have been deployed to monitor the operational gas stations at the rest areas along the turnpike,” New Jersey State Police Sgt. Adam Grossman told Fox News.
‘You’re waiting in line for five friggin’ gallons of gas!’
Gas has been in heavy demand in the region following the storm, both to power automobiles and for home generators. It’s one commodity that has thousands waiting in line, which is only adding to the frustration and loss of patience.
In Wayne, N.J., for instance, police reported that they were forced to break up heated confrontations at gas stations all day long Wednesday. In Brooklyn, meanwhile, tempers overheated at a Getty station, as some drivers exited their cars and exchanged angry words.
“I don’t have any lights and need this gasoline for my generator,” Abdul Rahim Anwar told Reuters as he waited at a Getty service station in Gowanus, Brooklyn.
He wasn’t the only one.
Officials say better than half of all gas stations in the New York City area and New Jersey are not operating – either because they don’t have fuel or because they don’t have the electricity to operate their pumps.
Worse, supplies in the area aren’t likely to rise, since a good number of pipelines and refineries have been shuttered due to storm damage. As of Wednesday, reports said, more than 80 percent of gas stations in New Jersey could not sell gasoline.
In southeastern Connecticut, residents were driving more than an hour north to find stations that had power to pump gasoline. One station attendant said the tension becomes especially pronounced after customers wait in line to fill gas cans, as opposed to vehicle fuel tanks.
“You’re waiting in line for five friggin’ gallons of gas,” he said.
In Northvale, N.J., at an Exxon station where a line of cars stretched for a third of a mile into the late hours of Wednesday night, a separate line of men carrying red gas cans inched along as well.
“I’ll wait here all night,” Cliffside Park resident Barry Levin, 42, said. “I need this for my family.”
Aware of the worsening crisis, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made moves to increase supplies of gasoline and diesel fuel by cutting red tape that makes it harder for stations to buy from out-of-state suppliers. That waiver will remain in place at least until Nov. 7, his administration said.
“When shortages threaten after natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, fuel buyers need to venture farther from state borders to ensure that their customers get the gasoline and diesel they need,” Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff said. “Temporarily suspending licensing is a prudent way of empowering merchants to buy fuel farther from the state line, boosting supplies for New Jersey motorists who need fuel to get to work and do their jobs.”
Kevin Beyer, head of the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association in Smithtown, N.Y., said if most customers only knew that the gas they need is sitting just underground at gas stations, it just can’t be pumped at the moment, they’d be even more frustrated.
‘You see the worst in people at times like this’
“I have gas in the ground but no power,” Beyer said. “For many others they’re facing the opposite problem, with power but no gasoline. For the few stations that are lucky enough to have both they’ve got huge lines out front.”
He says it could be the end of next week before all gas stations are operating again.
For now, the lack of supplies is fraying nerves.
Reports said Thursday that a scuffle broke out between two men carrying gas cans near Mendham-Chester, N.J., when one of them filled his pick-up with gas after first filling his gas can. Shortly after he finished, the computer that controlled the pump went dead, causing attendants to turn away a long line of waiting customers.
In addition to gasoline, batteries – particularly “D” batteries – were in high demand, but stores that carried them were cleaned out in short order following the storm. Before that happened, some reports said the batteries were selling for as much as $5 each.
It is behavior like this that makes it imperative to prepare before disaster strikes.
“You see the worst in people at a time like this,” said an Orange, N.Y., Lowe’s manager. “We’re trying to be there for them, but they get angry when they can’t get batteries or flashlights. I tell the staff not to take it personally – people are hurting.”