NEW YORK – Temperatures plummeted and tension soared in the Northeast, as gasoline supplies continued to dwindle despite furious efforts to bring in fuel. Sandy’s death toll reached 100, and New York called off its famous marathon, despite the mayor’s protestations that it should have taken place as scheduled, as a symbol of resolve.
Government officials moved aggressively to combat the fuel shortage, a critical hurdle to recovery and a threat to commuters, generators, trash trucks, taxis and rescue workers alike.
President Barack Obama on Friday ordered the Energy Department to loan diesel oil from government reserves in Connecticut to emergency responders. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano took the rare step of waiving 92-year-old rules dictating the delivery of petroleum products to Northeast ports, expediting shipments from the Gulf of Mexico.
In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo waived tax and registration requirements on fuel distribution – and insisted that there was “no reason to panic.”
It was evident that millions did not agree.
Lines for fuel stretched for miles and for hours. Some drivers ran out of gas before they could reach the pumps. In Queens, a 35-year-old man was arrested after he lost patience, cut in line and pulled a .25-caliber pistol on motorists who complained. Airlines began taking the costly step of carrying extra fuel on planes.
Authorities said gas availability might not return to normal for several more days.
“All this storm stuff is just driving me crazy,” said bartender Lindsay Benjamin, who walked two hours from her home in Queens to work in Manhattan. “The vibe is very nervous. A lot of people are temperamental.”
Five days after Sandy delivered a staggering blow to the most populous region in the United States and became one of the nation’s costliest natural disasters, there were significant signs of recovery.
Most symbolically, the lights started coming on in pockets of Lower Manhattan, home to vital financial institutions and dense, lively neighborhoods. Crowds of residents erupted in cheers as power began coming back to about 100,000 customers in the East Village and Chelsea neighborhoods. Fixes were expected to continue throughout the southern tip of Manhattan this weekend.
The Holland Tunnel, a critical conduit under the Hudson River connecting Manhattan with the west, also opened to buses Friday. And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie reopened the 12 casinos in Atlantic City, the beachfront landmark that was just a few miles away from where the center of the storm struck land.
Still, nearly 4 million homes and business remained without power. Some far-flung areas, even some of New York’s immediate suburbs, could face another week of darkness and cold.
It did not help that temperatures had fallen precipitously, and were expected to dip to near freezing this weekend. Worse, forecasters said a second storm could form off the Southeast coast early next week and then wind its way to the Northeast. It would not be Sandy – but even a garden-variety storm could bring wind, rain and snow to communities that were barely hanging on in the sunshine.
A caustic debate had erupted in recent days after Mayor Michael Bloomberg had insisted that the New York City Marathon should proceed as scheduled. “We have to go on,” he said.
But many area residents and government leaders called the decision irresponsible and indifferent, and the event was canceled Friday evening.