Long Island Gas Crisis: Promises and Hope

Hundreds of people swarmed a Hess gas station on Sunrise Highway in Copiague on foot and by car Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012 to get as much fuel as they could as temperatures continued to drop and more than 700,000 residents remained without heat or electricity one week after Hurricane Sandy wreaked devastation across the Northeast. It was a familiar scene across Long Island. (Christopher Twarowski/Long Island Press)

Much-needed gasoline deliveries began trickling into fuel-starved communities across Long Island throughout the weekend as temperatures plummeted and lengthy gas lines continued to expand.

The mercury dipped into the low 30s and upper 20s in the tri-state area for the second consecutive night Sunday, while more than 700,000 New Yorkers were still without heat or electricity a week after Hurricane Sandy wreaked destruction across the Northeast.


Forecasters predicted the cold trend would persist into the workweek, with a coastal storm expected to strike the region on Wednesday bringing strong winds and heavy rains with the potential for severe flooding.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters during a post-storm update with federal and local officials Sunday that while progress has been made in getting more gasoline and fuel shipments to affected areas, the shortage would continue to be an issue for “a number of days.” He urged people to stay off the roads if they could and not to panic.

“Now is not the time to be using the car if you don’t need to,” he said. “Now is not the time to be hoarding fuel.”

The governor was joined by Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, among others, and gave updated figures on the number of residents still in the dark.

Nassau County, with nearly 450,000 residents still without power, leads the state.

Cuomo warned the colder conditions would make homes damaged by the superstorm “uninhabitable” and “tens of thousands” of New Yorkers requiring alternative housing. His cautions came while much of Long Island’s South Shore—such as Lindenhurst, Babylon and the city of Long Beach, to name a few—remain in ruins, and tens of millions of gallons of raw sewage a day is being diverted into Rockaway Channel following a catastrophic failure at Nassau’s Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant.

FEMA had targeted 120 gas stations for power restoration and gas deliveries, said Schumer, adding that a fuel terminal in Inwood “is now open,” which “should affect Long Island and Rockaway.”

For hard-pressed New Yorkers, more gasoline supplies and electricity couldn’t come soon enough.

Motorists continued to wait in long rows of vehicles, some more than 200 deep, encircling gas stations, snaking along side streets and clogging main throughways across Nassau and Suffolk counties Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday in the hopes of filling up.

Gasoline was in such high demand on Long Island Friday, Nov. 2 that drivers resorted to camping out in their automobiles en route to the stations in anticipation of the next delivery. Some waited for more than 12 hours without any knowledge of when shipments would arrive. Others wore blankets. Many slept in their cars or used all the gas they had left just to make the trek, having no choice but to stay where they were.

Haim Benbenichti of Westbury waited in his car more than 12 hours outside a Hicksville gas station Friday, Nov. 2, 2012 in anticipation of the next gasoline delivery. He had food delivered to his car from a nearby pizzeria. (Christopher Twarowski/Long Island Press)

Haim Benbenichti of Westbury sat in his car along Old Country Road in Hicksville just before midnight Friday outside a Hess gas station where hundreds gathered the previous night, both by wheels and on foot. The 62-year-old had been waiting in line since 11 a.m., he said, and told the Press he’d be there, “Until they’re going to come.”

On the front passenger-side seat was a partially eaten pan of French fries, which he had delivered to his car from Milano’s Pizza across the street. The falling temperature was uppermost on his mind.

“It’s getting cold and it’s going to be colder,” said Benbenichti.

“Harvest Diner closes at 3 so we can [have] hot wings,” he smiled.

Eric, 30, of Carle Place, about 15 cars back from him, wanted to leave, but couldn’t.

“I’m boxed in,” he said. “Someone’s sleeping behind me. And the guy in front of me…he doesn’t want to move.”

It was a similar scene at several gas stations along Hempstead Turnpike shortly after midnight Nov. 3. Hundreds of cars—many of them with sleeping drivers behind the wheel—lined the eastbound lane. Vehicles jammed the empty pumps at another Hess in anticipation of its next delivery.

Gas-seekers followed tankers as they roared down Sunrise Highway near Lindenhurst earlier that evening, with several cars surrounding a delivery truck as it pulled into a Sunoco station to unload. When an attendant informed motorists it carried diesel fuel and not gasoline, one man screamed obscenities and pounded his fists on the station’s facade.

It wasn’t the only flare-up among the gasoline flash mobs, which sprang up like wildfire through word of mouth tip-offs and social media sites.

By 10 a.m. Saturday morning, hundreds of vehicles and pedestrian walk-ups crowded a Hess station on Sunrise Highway in Copiague.

Walk-ups at a Hess gas station in Copiague Saturday, Nov. 3 filled cans and containers of all shapes and dimensions with fuel for their cars and generators, including buckets, water jugs and antifreeze bottles. (Christopher Twarowski/Long Island Press)

People carried water jugs, buckets with no lids, antifreeze containers, degreaser cans, even pails labeled for garlic dill pickles—anything they could find—in order to fill their cars or generators. A sign posted on the pumps stated “one tank of gas permitted per customer,” with an additional 10 gallons allowed “for customers without power,” yet there was no enforcement of the rationing.

Horace Bassaragh of Amityville stood in the middle of the walk-up line designated for credit card holders and made the best of the situation. He joked with his brother-in-law about bringing Home Depot buckets to fill and laughed with strangers, making friends.

It wasn’t until a woman at the head of the line held up the flow—claiming she didn’t know it was only for card users and she only had cash—that his demeanor changed, summoning a Suffolk County police officer to assist.

“Step aside,” the cop told her.

“No smoking on the gas line,” another officer declared from a patrol car encircling the station.

“For the most part, it’s civil,” Bassaragh said of the operation, his first gas line since the storm.

“Every drop counts,” he joked with a man several people ahead who had accidentally spilled some of the precious fuel.

“See you on the next gas line,” a man smiled as he capped his haul and walked off.

By the time Bassaragh reached the pump with his brother-in-law, the gas ran out.

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