Gas shortage frays nerves, patience

Richard Tedesco And Dan Glaun

In scenes reminiscent of mid-1970s gas rationing, residents throughout the Town of North Hempstead are sitting on long lines in cars and trucks or standing with gas cans at gas stations in a desperate quest to keep their vehicles and their generators going.

In Williston Park on Saturday morning, a single line of cars stretched from the corner of Hillside and Willis avenues down to Jericho Turnpike, waiting for a station that had just regained power to open. One of the first drivers at the pump after the station opened said he’d claimed his space at 3:30 a.m. Some of the other people on line had been waiting four hours for the station to open.

The cars were moving toward the pumps through access lanes on the Willis and Hillside avenue sides in chaotic fashion, with tempers starting to flare until two National Guardsmen called on to maintain order at gas stations arrived on the scene.

“It’s happening all over. People’s tempers are getting short,” said National Guard Sgt. Charles Moyer. “It’s better here than in other places. Everybody’s relatively calm.”

And they remained calm through several hours of waiting for drivers in vehicles and an hour or more for people hauling gas containers.

Moyer and PFC Jamie Swearingen had some help from Jean Tranchina, commander of the Williston Park Auxiliary Police and at least one good neighbor who just wanted to lend a hand directing the motorists

“I just came to help out,” said local resident Ed Patisso.

Patisso, who had stopped by to fill up a few gas containers, stayed from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. and returned at 6 a.m. His generator was keeping his house comfortable, but he had no Internet access for his real estate business.  

“I got to meet a lot of my neighbors,” Patisso said. “I’ve got to do something.”

Williston Park resident Don Murphy said he’d been waiting for 45 minutes with a gas can after giving up on his chances in the car line.

“I’ve been on the car line since 6:23 and I got on the line halfway down to Jericho. I was running out of gas,” he said, explaining he uses his car to commute to work in the city.

Jim Bumstead walked over from Sherman Avenue toting two plastic gas containers on a small hand truck to keep the power on in his house.

“I’m not here for my car. I’m here for my generator. It eats gas,” Bumstead said. 

Everyone in a car or on foot got the same deal: $40 limit for cars and a $20 limit for gas cans. The station had gas, but was without electricity until late Friday night.

“There is no fuel shortage at this point. Fuel has been coming out,” said Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman on Tuesday. “The issue now is the number of people who had not fueled up. And on top of that there are fewer stations open and more people than usual looking for gas.”

Based on a U.S. Energy Information Agency emergency survey of gasoline availability, as of Sunday, Nov. 4, the EIA estimated 27 percent of gasoline stations in the New York metropolitan area didn’t have gas for sale. That represented a sharp decrease from the estimated 67 percent the EIA estimated had no fuel on Friday. 

The number includes stations that reported no gasoline available and those EIA could not reach after numerous attempts, and consequently assume that the stations were closed. 

Of the stations sampled, 73 percent (up from 33 percent Friday) had gasoline available for sale as of Sunday, none reported they were not selling gasoline because they had no power (compared to 3 percent on Friday), 10 percent reported having power but no gas (same as Friday), and 17 percent (down from 53 percent Friday) did not respond to attempts to contact them.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is the statistical and analytical agency within the U.S. Department of Energy.

This week, state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) said he had received good news from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office of Emergency Management about gas availability.

“Fuel is finally making its way on tankers to terminal ports throughout the region,” Martins said.

Martins said the importance of powering up dormant gas stations has been emphasized to LIPA officials. But he said the problem has been the inability of fuel tankers to enter New York City harbor due to floating debris from cargo ships that never made it out of port before the storm struck, forcing the U.S. Coast Guard to shut down the channels. 

“The good news is they’ve finally cleared channels for safe passage and the tankers are on their way to the necessary terminals,” Martins said, asking residents to be patient.

Meanwhile, in New Hyde Park on Saturday, a long line of cars was cued up at a Gulf station on the corner of Jericho Turnpike and New Hyde Park Road. The line that snaked south along New Hyde Park Road across the railroad tracks and down Clinch Avenue in Garden City was not moving because the station had no gas to sell. A delivery was expected, but the manager said he had no idea when it might arrive. The line remained in place through most of the afternoon, only breaking down near dusk.

But the following morning, an early morning delivery had brought the station back to life, with a long line of cars that was moving briskly and a line of forelorn-looking people on line with gas containers.

“I got no power,” said Mineola resident Tony Richie, who couldn’t find any other area gas stations opened and needed to fuel his generator.

“This situation is not good enough,” said Queens Village resident Miguel Lopez.

Similar scenes were repeated throughout the weekend, with cars in seemingly endless lines and people with gas cans, looking tired of waiting, tired of everything that the hurricane had dumped on them. 

On the Great Neck peninsula, some gas stations were still not operational Monday morning, their pumps blocked off by police tape. Stations that had gas were beset with long lines, with customers and station owners reporting delays and tense conditions.

At the BP station on Great Neck Road, a line of cars stretched from the pumps out to the street.

Esad Nisic of Great Neck said he waited for two hours before filling his tank. It was the first time he had bought gas since the storm, he said, and he had restricted his driving to emergency situations.

Another Great Neck resident said she had waited about one and a half hours – an improvement over Friday, when she stood in line for three hours before learning that the Getty Station on Cuttermill Road was out of gas.

““[I’ve been] walking as much as possible,” Nisic said.

Long lines were common on Monday. A crowd of about 20 people holding gas canisters waited outside a Shell station that morning on the corner of Lakeville Road and Northern Boulevard.

While residents are facing gas shortages after Hurricane Sandy shut down New York Harbor and delayed fuel deliveries, even stations with gas supplies have seen their business stymied by blackouts.

Fernando Cerff, the owner of the Getty station on Cuttermill Road, said that he began selling gas once power was restored on Thursday but quickly sold out.

His station had fuel but lacked the electricity to pump it until Thursday afternoon. Cerff said that the resumption of gas sales was met with extremely high demand, and that he was now only providing fuel for emergency 


“The lines were all the way almost around the block,” he said.

Cerff described a logjam of cars and customers who stood in line with gas canisters to transport fuel to their cars and home generators.

The gas shortage led to tension among purchasers, according to Cerff, who said that business on Thursday was marred by line cutting and angry disputes.

Cerff said his station did not raise prices in response to the shortage.

“I lost a lot of money,” he said. “All my mechanics had to pump gas.”    

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Richard Tedesco And Dan Glaun

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