Gas lines grow, temps drop, hundreds of thousands without power
Six-and-a-half hours later, police told them to leave: There would be no truck, and no gas.
The debacle there was emblematic of a day and night of confusion and frustration as anxious Long Islanders scrambled Saturday to find gas for vehicles running on empty, and for generators needed for the homes where LIPA had yet to restore power.
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Five days after Sandy struck the metropolitan region with hurricane-force winds, flooding homes and casting millions of homes and businesses into darkness, some signs of progress toward the dawn of a regular workweek were evident: The Long Island Rail Road said it would have limited service Monday on eight of its 11 branches; officials said 80 percent of subway service in Manhattan has been restored; and more of the Island's schools plan to open Monday or by midweek.
But there was desperation too: for those suffering chillier nights in homes without power, for those put out of their homes by the storm waiting for help to start putting their lives back together, and for those who need gas.
Gift that didn't pan out
At gas stations that had it, the lines were still miles long, with waits that went on for hours. And the promised gift of government gas didn't pan out for some.
That started when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office announced that 5,000-gallon military tanker trucks were headed to locations in New York City and Long Island to refuel first responders and also allow individuals to get up to 10 gallons of free fuel.
"I hopped in my car and got here as fast as I could," said Jane Wilson, 54, of South Freeport, whose blue Chevy was first in line.
A Cuomo administration official who asked not to be identified said the plan came from the U.S. Defense Department.
"This was a DOD plan with DOD trucks at sites DOD selected and it was DOD that executed it," he said. "They were clearly not able to execute their plan."
The Defense Department said the distribution was a Federal Emergency Management Agency operation. A call to FEMA was not immediately returned. Neither Cuomo's office nor the other agencies involved had an explanation of what had happened to the truck.
The military tanker trucks did show at other locations, including in Brooklyn and Jamaica, and drivers who waited as long as four hours got gas. But during the afternoon, the distribution was halted, except for first responders.
"Due to long lines and high demand, emergency personnel and first responder vehicles are being given priority," an advisory by the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs read. "We request that the public not proceed to these facilities until additional fuel is released by the Department of Defense."
"We feel isolated and alone," said Mary Ribisi, 52, whose Lindenhurst home was destroyed by flooding. "There are forms to fill out and give to FEMA, but it's freezing and some of us have no power or water and large families to feed. It's a scary time."
LIPA, which saw a record 945,000 customer outages from Sandy, had restored power to roughly half by last night. The utility was helped by more than 4,000 workers imported from off Long Island, and with federal, state and local assistance and coordination.
LIPA criticism mounts
Criticism of the company continued to mount, however, with Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano posting Saturday on his Facebook page: "This response and lack of communication with customers is shameful."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg also chastised LIPA, which provides electricity to the hard-hit Rockaways.
"In our view, LIPA has not acted aggressively enough," Bloomberg said. "When it comes to prioritizing resources, we think they should be first in line," he said of the Queens island community.
Long Beach resident Martin Zuckerman, 52, said sections of Long Island are "suffering" and urged LIPA to pick up the pace of restoration.
"The people we count on to help are not helping enough," Zuckerman said. "After almost a week of this, no power and no gas, people are feeling desperate."
Also Saturday, the storm-related death count increased to 41 in New York City, after police recovered the body of Queens resident George Stathis, 90. Investigators believe he drowned in his basement in the Rockaways. On Long Island, six deaths have been blamed on the storm.
At the federal level, government aid continued to flow to residents on Long Island and in city neighborhoods devastated by Sandy. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano assured Long Islanders that more FEMA crews would be sent into the region.
"FEMA is here, FEMA is in this community, it's in this county, it's in this state," Napolitano said during a news conference Saturday at the Massapequa firehouse. "Even more are coming," she said of FEMA teams.
FEMA first offers individuals seeking assistance information about how they could qualify for it, and helps people with securing temporary housing.
"We think we may have lost up to 100,000 homes in this area," Napolitano said. "We need to be able to get people and relocate them into a place where they can be safe and warm and dry."
Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand said FEMA had expanded President Barack Obama's major disaster declaration, freeing up more federal money for individuals and municipalities hit hard by Sandy.
As parents struggled with gas, electricity and government-aid issues, their children geared up for a return to school. At least 20 public school districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties that were closed last week after Sandy plan to start classes Monday or by midweek, according to educators and a Newsday survey of districts' websites.
Educators in more districts are expected to announce decisions this afternoon on openings Monday or by midweek, depending on road conditions, whether facilities have electricity and if teachers and staff have fuel to get to their schools.
Patience, pulling together
For the gas-starved, Cuomo offered this advice on a tour of Long Island: "You can wait on a line today, or travel less, postpone some plans and wait a couple of days and the situation is going to be greatly alleviated."
Amid the storm's fallout, many Long Islanders pulled together to help one another. Families with hot water offered showers to others in need. Extension cords trailed from houses with power to houses without it. A church in Syosset that was still without power held an afternoon Mass on its front lawn. Those with family safe at home played board games or held potluck dinners with neighbors.
"Anyone who needs hot food, a shower or a charge has been coming over to my place," said Linda Clark, 64, who invited dozens of friends and neighbors without electricity to her Melville home. "People around here stick together in times of crisis, even one as bad as this."