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Queens Chronicle

Post-Sandy: long gas lines, short tempers

Power outages, supply problems lead to shortages and long waits

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Posted: Thursday, November 8, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 11:36 am, Thu Nov 15, 2012.

Michael Watt was bemused on Monday when he read a quote in the news attributed to an official of the Long Island Power Authority, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, saying the agency does not make restoring electricity to gas stations a priority.

“It’s amazing,” said Watt, executive director of the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association. “The lifeblood of any region is gasoline. And most of my members have been in business 20, 30 or in some cases 40 years, and have never been without power for more than a day-and-a half. Now it’s been a week that we have been without it.”

Watt predicted correctly that gas lines would begin to ease by week’s end as more stations got electricity back, and as suppliers became more able to regularly restock those who never went out.

But long lines and short tempers were becoming par for the course in the days following the Oct. 29-30 hurricane.

Lisa LiCausi of Ozone Park said last Friday that she saw what should have been a hopeful detail on her way to work.

“There was a gas station on Cross Bay Boulevard with a sign that said they were getting a delivery of gas,” LiCausi said. “But that sign was there Thursday, too.”

Still the three nearest lanes of traffic were jammed up with people turning into the station, leaving little room for through-traffic.

Christopher McBride, community transportation specialist for AAA New York, predicted that things would ease this week, and said AAA had advocated conservation in the early days of the shortage.

He too said more power and a reinvigorated supply chain — and patience — were key to getting through the crisis days.

“There’s been a panic situation that should subside.”

McBride said he passed one gas line on his way into AAA’s Garden City, LI offices last week that that stretched about three-quarters of a mile.

Watt said the problem was exacerbated on Thursday, Nov. 1 when the Coast Guard kept gasoline tankers out of port for an extra day.

McBride said things began easing up as New Jersey ports reopened, though it was not enough to deal with the initial backlog.

Police on Friday were forced to shut down a Shell station at 74th Street and Grand Avenue in Maspeth late Friday morning because of reported unrest and threats of violence breaking out.

In Astoria, a St. Albans man has been arrested for allegedly pulling a gun to cut into the line.

LiCausi, a Queens Chronicle employee, said the situation in Ozone Park was causing problems for firefighters and EMS personnel in her neighborhood in the vicinity of a Hess station on Cross Bay Boulevard Thursday afternoon.

“You had three lanes with people trying to get gas, leaving one for traffic to go through,” LiCausi said. “And it was backed up for at least three blocks.”

She said a fire engine trapped on a cross street could not get through, prompting an FDNY captain to approach three city traffic agents standing on the nearby median strip for help, which they were reluctant to give.

“They were all on their cell phones,” LiCausi said. “He told them they had to ticket those cars or get them moving. They told him they were on their break.”

A spokesman for the FDNY on Friday said that all emergency vehicles are and will continue responding to calls regardless of traffic issues.

LiCausi said the situation on Cross Bay Boulevard had improved only marginally by Friday morning’s commute, when traffic agents were keeping some semblance of order.

But City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said Friday that many such problems were a result of an ineffective response from the federal government.

“It’sridiculous citizens have to be put through this aggravation and potential violence,” Vallone said. “Why didn’t the federal government prepare for this? They can fuel an entire war in Afghanistan, but not this?”

Vallone said he was most concerned about emergency response teams and groups that were trying to get supplies through to the hardest-hit neighborhoods. The councilman’s office was filled to the brim with donations — including 20 smoked turkeys— but he said his staff wasn’t sure how to get the food out there because everyone was running out of gas.

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