Long Island Endures: Tales From Hurricane Sandy’s Aftermath


Hundreds of people on foot and in vehicles wait on long lines to fill up containers and gas tanks at a Hess gasoline station in Copiague Nov. 3, 2012. (Christopher Twarowski/Long Island Press)

EMPTY

The shortage of gasoline to fuel generators and run vehicles remains a hellish nightmare as of press time.


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Lines of automobiles, some more than 200 deep, continue to wrap around blocks and neighborhoods, snake along side streets and jam main thoroughfares. Police continue to stand guard to keep the peace, protect the fuel, and as in one situation a Press reporter discovered last Saturday while waiting in a walk-up line hundreds of people thick—remind people not to smoke while on line.

There’ve been flare-ups on the lines, as frustration boils over and patience wears thin. A man was arrested at a gas station in Queens for trying to cut a gas line and pulling a gun on those who protested. A Suffolk teen allegedly brandished a knife at a gas attendant at another stop. People are now coming to fill up armed.

A Press reporter witnessed one man filling up with a billy club protruding from his pocket and another who admitted that he’d brought two knives with him on a visit.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s attempts to get more gas flowing has been only partly successful.

There are gas stations still without power that have fuel and many with power that are empty. Part of the problem stems from the closing of New York Harbor, a crucial port for fuel, during the storm. Lately, even if they do get additional supplies they’re quickly tapped out again, as anticipation lines—rows of vehicles hundreds long inhabited by gas-seekers who either sleep in their cars or park them in front of pumps and stations and leave them until there’s word that it’s open again.

Many can be seen on line literally pushing their vehicles to the pump because they have no fuel left to leave the lines even if they wanted to.

As Cuomo and Schumer continue their crusade to break loose more gas, another issue has arisen—hoarding. Many gas stations have posted signs warning of rationed limits each person can take—yet there’s no enforcement, so once at the pump people take as much as they can. This wipes out the new fuel almost as fast as it’s delivered.

The governor warned against fuel stockpiling at a post-Hurricane Sandy update Nov. 4, adding that while progress was being made to ease the flow, the shortage would continue to be an issue for “a number of days.”

“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 has also not held his tongue about the slow, confusing and infuriating response of the state’s utilities, including the Long Island Power Authority, telling reporters at a recent post-storm update: “To say that I am angry, to say that I am frustrated, disappointed, would be the understatement of the decade.”

Desperation has set in. Regarding the lack of power, residents in Farmingdale, for instance, besieged their village hall when LIPA only restored half their apartment complex. Regarding the gas squeeze, people have now resorted to lugging whatever container, water jug, bucket or bottle they can find to fill up. Such is the case at nearly every gas station that offers a walk-up.

Haim Benbenichti, of Westbury, sat in his car along Old Country Road in Hicksville just before midnight Nov. 2 outside a Hess gas station where hundreds of people converged the night before seeking gas, both by car and by foot.

The 62-year-old had been waiting in line since 11 a.m., he said, and would be there, he said, “Until they’re going to come.”

A partially eaten pan of French fries sat beside him, which he had delivered to his car from a nearby pizzeria.

The plummeting temperatures, which have been hovering in the low 30s and upper 20s throughout the past week, were on his mind.

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

Besides fuel, however, one source of warmth for the countless who have been rendered homeless by the storm has been delivered through the caring hearts of others. Complete strangers. Fellow Long Islanders.

To witness some of the truly random acts of pure kindness in such ravaged tragedy has brought more than one Press reporter to tears themselves.

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