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Gasoline shortage fuels long lines at stations

People line up with their gasoline cans hoping

People line up with their gasoline cans hoping to get them filled at a BP station on Hempstead Avenue in West Hempstead. Gas was becoming harder and harder to find since superstorm Sandy hit. (Nov. 1, 2012) Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Long lines and short tempers at gasoline stations Thursday deepened Long Islanders' misery from superstorm Sandy.

A key reason for the shortage of gasoline: The Port of New York was closed until Thursday, starving the Island's local distribution terminals of gasoline.

Relief is on the way, experts said, but it might be next week before normalcy is restored. Prices are likely to rise further in the meantime.

At a BP gas station on Northern Boulevard in Manhasset, the driver of a car who tried to cut a half-mile long, two-hour line was confronted by three other drivers who jumped from their cars, pounded on his windshield and blocked the pump. "Are you kidding?" asked one.

At a Hess station on Route 110 in Melville, a driver tried to cut a line of about 80 cars snaking for blocks. "I've been in line two hours!" another driver, William Hurley, 43, of Babylon, shouted at him. "Go to the back like everyone else!" The two argued until a Hess attendant told the newcomer to go to the back of the line. "I never thought people could behave like this over gas," said the attendant, Salaam Ibrahim, 24, of Flushing.

At least one driver offered money to get past the lines. At the Hess station on Deer Park Avenue in Deer Park, a line of more than 70 cars had formed Thursday afternoon, and customers said it took 90 minutes to reach the pumps. Sam Rothschild, 64, of Deer Park, said someone offered him $50 for his place in line -- just a few minutes from the front -- but he declined. "I'd rather be able to make it to work than have an extra $50," said the construction company manager.

The Port of New York reopened for fuel shipments Thursday, said the Coast Guard. But an industry source said shipments might still be limited by lack of power at the port's terminals.

Northville Industries' Holtsville terminal is a major supplier to Long Island gasoline stations. An executive for Northville, who declined to be quoted by name, said the terminal was dry but that he expected a 20,000-barrel barge load from New York this morning, coming via Port Jefferson harbor. But with the Island's other major gas terminals in Inwood not operating, he said, his supplies are likely to sell out fast: "It's going to be a mad rush."

Suffolk County Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) Thursday called on the Long Island Power Authority to give priority to restoring electricity to the terminals in Inwood, Lawrence and Glenwood Landing.

Two of six East Coast refineries in Sandy's path shut down as it approached and the others reduced production, reducing supplies, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Exacerbating the situation is that many gas stations that have fuel lack electricity to pump it into motorists' cars.

"We're very aware of the gas issue," said LIPA chief operating officer Michael Hervey. While LIPA can't single out a gas station as a priority as it restores electric service, he said, its current plan of focusing on main supply lines from its substations will begin to restore power to more gas stations, as well as other businesses on those same lines.

The AAA said regular averaged $3.917 a gallon Long Island Thursday morning, up 1.5 cents from the previous day. The website, based on motorists' reports, listed prices as high as $4.59 a gallon for regular Thursday afternoon.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman warned businesses on Sunday that state law prohibits businesses from charging "excessive prices" for essential items, including gasoline, during natural disasters.

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