NY free gas response overwhelms officials, plan switched to emergency vehicles only

The owner of the Getty gas station on

The owner of the Getty gas station on Nepperhan and Odell aves in Yonkers, simply known as Moe, argues with customer Orlando Ortiz, left, of Yonkers, about cutting the line to fill his container with gas. (Nov. 1, 2012) (Credit: Faye Murman)

Countless people were turned away Saturday as they responded to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's early morning offer of 10 gallons of free gas.

The "free gas for the people" offer -- announced Saturday morning by Gov. Andrew Cuomo -- was rescinded after thousands of drivers increasingly unable to find gas swarmed five locations in New York City and Long Island.

"So many people turned out for the 10 gallons of fuel that it's become impractical to provide that fuel service to so many residents and still ensure that we can provide for first responders," said Col. Richard Goldenberg of the New York National Guard. Citizens who were already waiting at 2:30 p.m. were allowed to stay but the rest were turned away.


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The fuel, ordered sent to New York and New Jersey by President Obama late Friday, was used to gas up police cars, fire trucks and other emergency vehicles at armories in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Freeport.

Earlier in the day, Cuomo's office had announced that five, 5,000-gallon federal tankers were dispensing free fuel provided by the U.S. Department of Defense.

By 9 a.m., drivers swarmed the locations, with mile-long lines greeting the tankers, which rolled in between 10 a.m. and noon, Goldenberg said.

The makeshift dispensary at the Freeport Armory in Long Island was mobbed by hundreds of civilian motorists in vehicles lined up for hours midday Saturday -- only to be told by police that there had been a miscommunication, and no gas would be available to the public.

"In some places we had some confusion but it has been rectified," said an apologetic state official who declined to be named. But, he added, "As more DOD resources become available we hope to expand."

Meanwhile, "No gas" signs, long lines at open gas stations and rationing persist in Westchester and Rockland, where local officials had mixed reactions to the offer of free gas for first responders.

"None of this helps us here in Westchester," Anthony Giaccio, Sleepy Hollow Village Administrator, said. "What will help is if Con Ed could restore power to fuel stations that have gas. We have two here in Sleepy Hollow and have yet to see a Con Ed crew. We have a little more than a day's worth of fuel left for our emergency service vehicles."

Millions of gallons of commercial fuel are arriving to the area and will be ready for distribution to gas stations that have power, according to a statement from the governor. So far, more than 8 million gallons of gasoline and other petroleum fuel sources are on hand and an additional 28 million gallons are being delivered to industrial terminals around the region, according to Cuomo's office. On Friday, a barge carrying 2.7 million gallons arrived in Newburgh.

Various federal and state requirements overseeing the transport and distribution of fuel have been temporarily suspended so that "New Yorkers can return to life as normal as quickly as possible," Cuomo said in afternoon update.

Officials in the lower Hudson Valley apparently were not looped into Cuomo's free gas plan as municipalities continue to struggle on their own. In some areas -- Rockland County, Yonkers and Clarkstown -- gas stations are limiting maximum purchases to 10 gallons per driver per day before running completely out of gas to sell.

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino had no information at all about the gas giveway, said his spokesman Ned McCormack. But the aide said next week might see a turn around in the situation for local gas stations serving the public: "What's happening here now is that stations are coming online as they get power. We think this problem will sort out in a day or two."

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