Emotions continued to run high across Long Island and Queens Thursday and Friday as residents seeking gasoline for vehicles and generators waited for hours to fill up tanks and containers or were forced to return home empty-handed following multi-hour-long treks.
Lines of automobiles snaking 20 or 30 vehicles deep around gas stations in previous days stretched 160-plus in length at week’s end, with the majority of stations either out of fuel or hosting New York City and Nassau County police officers to guard the little they had left and maintain order.
A man was arrested at a gas station in Queens Thursday for allegedly pulling a gun on another motorist after trying to cut a gas line and being confronted. New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order the same day to ease registration requirements on transporters and distributors and expedite gasoline, kerosene and diesel shipments. Fuel ports are open, say authorities, though due to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, some gas stations remain powerless despite having fuel and others simply have no gas to sell.
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This reporter discovered 36 gas stations without fuel or power Thursday night—about two dozen across Queens and another dozen in Nassau—many cordoned off by cones, wrapped with yellow emergency tape or bearing signs reading “No Gas.” Several were manned by police officers and patrol cars.
After a four-hour search that began on the South Shore, down Northern Boulevard and throughout several North Shore communities, a lone Hess station attracting a line of more than 120 vehicles that jammed a swath of Old Country Road in Hicksville and offered walk-up lines to several pumps became the final destination.
A team of men under the direction of station manager Valeh Karimov directed the flow, shouting orders at weary motorists—several of whom were flashing hazard lights and actually pushing their cars along the street and up to the station. They rationed the fuel to a $30-dollar limit per vehicle.
Valeh told the Press the procession had been constant for 17 hours, crediting his crew with maintaining the peace and instilling a sense of order amid what has been a near-week of nerve-testing chaos, with much of the Island and region still without electricity in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. His was the only place open that night, he said, because, “I got a delivery and I have power.”
“It’s excellent,” he said. “If you see, I don’t even have police, National Guard, nothing. Nobody fighting, nobody killing each other.”
In addition to the parade of cars and trucks, his team did their best to supervise a flow of dozens of people who were walking up to the pumps on foot, their arms heavy with various-sized containers. They formed four organized lines around four pumps.
Besides one man complaining to another ahead of him about filling up his friends’ containers too, for the most part, the execution remained civilized.
Paul Cantalupo, 48, of Hicksville, and Chris Miller, 46, of Westbury, stood at the rear of one of those lines around midnight. Both have no power at their homes, they said.
For Miller, this Hess was the final stop in a multi-station tour.
“I drove into Hollis and back,” he said, adding that it was one of the few places he’d found with separate lines for walk-ups and vehicles.
Miller said he had witnessed fights breaking out over gasoline at other stations the day before and “a lot of cops.”
“The other lines were crazy,” he added.
“It’s not bad,” Miller said of Valeh’s operation. “Much more order now.”
“I put a little in my car and the rest for my generator,” he continued, admitting that his “little cans” were part of the problem.
“You should do a story on the people filling up illegal gas cans,” said Cantalupo. “That guy has two antifreeze containers,” he added, motioning to a man scurrying lugging two yellow containers back to his car.
Others hauled bottles and canisters of various shapes and sizes, humping them back across Old Country to a nearby parking lot or carrying them off into the darkness of the surrounding side streets. One woman immediately dumped her newly filled gas can into her car across the street. Several walk-ups re-appeared on line more than once with empty containers.
Sixty-year-old Hicksville resident Sam Shah, who rolled up next in line to a pump in a white van shortly after midnight after waiting patiently in the centipede of cars spanning from the intersection of School Street and Salisbury Park Road to Bowling Green Drive, said the past several days have been tough.
“For four days I have no electricity, no heat, no TV, nothing,” he said.
“Thirty dollar, cash,” shouted an employee when it was Shah’s turn for a fill. “Only thirty dollars. Thirty dollars for everyone.”
The man allowed Shah to fill up a small container as well, for another $10.
“Very difficult,” said Shah.
At about 12:15 a.m. Friday morning one of Valeh’s posse began making loud exclamations in the street, waving a flashlight and telling drivers still on the line: “No gas! Let’s go! Keep moving!”
“You guys are not listening!” he continued. “You’re burning more gas just standing here!”
The man called the Nassau County police, instructing others to close off the driveway.
“Don’t let anybody in from this drive-thru!” he yelled.
By 12:30 a.m., the station rejoined the neighborhood in darkness and silence but for the flashing, spinning red and white lights of Nassau police cruisers.