A New York man was arrested after pulling a gun on another driver as they waited in line for gas, one of several examples of frayed nerves caused by a gas shortage in the wake of superstorm Sandy.
In New Jersey, where lines at the few stations that were able to pump fuel stretched for miles, state troopers were deployed at all gas stations along the NJ Turnpike and Garden State Parkway as the region endures its fourth full day with massive power outages. Officials say Sandy-driven closures at refineries, the inability of tankers to dock and most of all, outages that prevent pumps from drawing fuel from underground tanks at stations have fewer than half of stations in the region pumping.
It was too much for Sean Bailey, 35, of Queens, who authorities say a he tried to cut in line at a gas station in Queens early Thursday and pointed a pistol at another motorist who complained. Bailey was arrested on charges of menacing and criminal possession of a weapon and if convicted, could face up to 15 years in prison.
Frustration with gas supplies topped the list of issues causing tensions to boil over in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, the states hardest hit by power outages in the wake of superstorm Sandy. 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.
Gasoline, in heavy demand for both cars and home generators, had customers waiting in line for hours and losing patience throughout the Garden State, as well as in New York, and Connecticut. In Wayne, N.J, police reported breaking up angry confrontations at gas stations throughout the day on Wednesday. In Brooklyn, tempers flared outside a Getty station, with drivers getting out of their cars and exchanging 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.
“I’ll wait here all night. I need this for my family.”
- Barry Levin, Cliffside Park, N.J.
Officials said more than half of all gasoline service stations in the New York City area and New Jersey have been shut down because they are either out of fuel or don’t have power to operate pumps. In addition, pipelines and refineries have been shut down due to storm damage. More than 80 percent of stations in New Jersey were unable to sell gasoline as of Wednesday, according to the New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience, Automotive Association.
"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 FoxNews.com.
Residents of southeastern Connecticut were driving more than an hour north to find stations with power to run their pumps. One attendant there said tension becomes especially raw when people wait in line to fill gas cans, as opposed to vehicle tanks.
“You're waiting in line for five friggin’ gallons of gas!" he said.
At an Exxon station in Northvale, N.J., where a line of cars stretched for a third of a mile late into Wednesday night, and another line of men waiting to fill red jerry gas cans inched along,
“I’ll wait here all night,” said Barry Levin, 42, of Cliffside Park. “I need this for my family.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie moved to increase supplies of gasoline and diesel by waiving requirements that make it harder for stations to buy from out-of-state suppliers. The waiver will be in place until Nov. 7.
“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, president of the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association in Smithtown, N.Y., said customers would be even more frustrated if they considered that the gas they need is underground – it just can’t be pumped.
"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."
Beyer estimated it could take until the end of next week to get all fuel stations operating again.
For now, the flow of precious fuel has slowed to a trickle and that has customers nerves frayed. Patch of Mendham-Chester, N.J., reported that a scuffle broke out Wednesday between two men bearing empty gas cans when one of the men filled his pick-up truck with gas after topping off his gas can. Shortly after he finished, the computer controlling the pump went dead, and a long line of hopeful customers was turned away.
Rivaling the demand for gas was the scarcity of D batteries, the kind most flashlights use. Virtually every store in New Jersey, New York City and Long Island was cleaned out, and there are reports of them selling for as much as $5 apiece.
At Lowe’s in Orange, N.Y., a manager said he and other employees – many without power in their own homes – have stayed in nearby hotels just to keep the store open and running.
“You see the worst in people at a time like this,” he said. “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.”
Supermarkets with their own generators managed to stay open and offer even perishable items. But other grocery stores went dark, or offered their customers an even more frustrating proposition: For instance, at the ShopRite supermarket in Neptune, N.J., food and supplies could be had - but customers were required to provide exact change.
Other targets of frustration are the utility crews working to restore power. With the daunting task of repairing nearly half of all service in New Jersey and as much as 80 percent on Long Island, local power companies are getting help from out of state. But that doesn't stop angry calls to company offices and even occasional confrontations on streets - when utility workers can even be spotted. The Long Island Power Authority advised customers angry at a lack of visible LIPA crews that many working to restore electricity to Long Island have come from out of state and are using personal vehicles.