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Weary LIers seek aid as officials vow help

Greg Snow attempts to clear debris from superstorm

Greg Snow attempts to clear debris from superstorm Sandy from his yard on Atlantic Street in Lindenhurst. (Nov. 1, 2012) Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Tempers flared and frustrations mounted Friday as weary Long Islanders waited hours in lines for gasoline, falling temperatures turned homes without power into dreary iceboxes, and despondent homeowners began filing applications for relief from superstorm Sandy's destruction.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Democratic U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and members of Long Island's congressional delegation reassured residents that extraordinary efforts were being made to get fuel to gas stations and electricity restored to a half-million Long Island Power Authority customers who still were in the dark.

"There is no reason to panic. There is no reason for anxiety," Cuomo said. Of meager gas availability, he said, "We understand why there was a shortage. We also understand why it's going to be better -- and better in the near future."

The governor and Schumer said gas shortages should ease over the weekend. Tankers that had been held away from New York Harbor because of storm debris finally were able to get to terminals and offload fuel for distribution. Cuomo said he signed an executive order waiving taxes and registration procedures for the ships so they could expedite the unloading.

Police said there were scores of altercations at gas stations, and officers were dispatched to many of them to keep order. Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone restricted people's consumption to filling up one vehicle's tank of gas and one portable container per trip, and urged residents to stay home over the weekend to conserve fuel.

At a Citgo station on East Hoffman Avenue in Lindenhurst, dozens of cars lined up for nearly a mile around noontime. Drivers at the front of the line said they had been waiting nearly three hours.

"Everybody's freaking out," said Krista Wright, 20, of Lindenhurst. "If anyone tries to get in front of them on line, they start fights."

Victims in ravaged areas got the promise of more financial assistance: Cuomo pledged creation of a $100 million state fund, with money available starting Monday. Specifics of how the funds will be applied for or allocated were not yet available.

The governor said legislative leaders agreed to the fund's establishment. The Legislature is expected to return to session after Tuesday's election to deal with the storm relief.

In New York City, the depth of the storm's effects brought cancellation of the ING New York City Marathon, scheduled Sunday. Mayor Michael Bloomberg had hoped the event would show the city's resilience and lift spirits.

The fourth day after Sandy struck the Island, New York City and New Jersey with hurricane-force winds, Suffolk police set dawn-to-dusk curfews -- until further notice -- prohibiting motorists and pedestrians from going south of Montauk Highway in Babylon village, Lindenhurst and Copiague. In Long Beach, an overnight curfew already was in place.

Police have added 25 extra marked and unmarked vehicles to the zones, in addition to the four regularly assigned there, and said they have no reports of looting. A Suffolk police spokeswoman said there was an increase in reported thefts, mostly commercial burglaries, on Monday and Tuesday during Sandy, but burglaries and larcenies have remained at average levels since then.

Bellone issued an order banning anyone except emergency personnel from using a private boat or vessel to go to Fire Island, where most oceanfront homes sustained damage. Violators are subject to arrest.

In a positive development for Fire Island, the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced it will work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to repair two breaches torn by Sandy, an effort that could take months and cost millions of dollars.

Residents whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged began to file applications for disaster relief with the Federal Emergency Management Agency at locations in Nassau and Suffolk.

In the gymnasium at Nassau Community College, John Gunther, 37, of Island Park, waited in line, holding his 1-year-old son. He, his fiance and the baby have been staying at the nearby shelter in the student union since Tuesday night.

They live in the basement of Gunther's parents' house, which took on 4 feet of water.

"In 25 years, we've never had water in our house," Gunther said. "We were totally unprepared for this."

In Lindenhurst, residents waited Friday afternoon in two long lines -- about 50 people deep each -- to register with FEMA at a mobile unit that had five landline phones.

Many people were seeking rental assistance or money for temporary housing, hoping to leave shelters and regain some stability as they figure out a path to recovery.

Frank Delany, 53, who lives south of Montauk Highway, said he had 4 feet of water in his house and is planning to rebuild. He did not have flood insurance, he said.

"We're definitely staying put," he said, adding he is hoping for FEMA help "as fast as possible."

Good news came on several fronts: Officials said a public health risk had been relieved, as sewage from the Bay Park Sewage treatment plant, which was damaged in the storm, stopped spilling into surrounding streets and homes. Long Beach said it expects to turn its water and sewage systems back on by early next week.

And public transit continued to move toward an attenuated normalcy.

The LIRR began limited service to Penn Station on two more lines, adding hourly Babylon and Huntington line service, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said. Crews were to work over the weekend clearing trees and debris from other lines, including the Port Jefferson and Oyster Bay branches.

"The progress is happening literally on an hourly basis and is amazingly advanced for what we anticipated," Cuomo said.

For those traveling to Manhattan, restrictions requiring vehicles to have at least three passengers to cross East River bridges ended Friday.

LIPA, the target of strong words from Cuomo about fulfilling its obligation to its customers, said much more headway would be made in the next few days, as crews that have completed repairs to the heart of the electrical grid move on to neighborhoods and businesses.

About 515,000 customers remained without power last night. The utility hopes to cut that number to 97,000 by Wednesday.

Even with signs of comeback, the lack of fuel was the most pervasive post-storm problem on an Island that is facing low temperatures below 40 degrees for at least the next six days.

The Island's hospitals weighed in about that crying need.

"The most pressing issue at this time for hospitals and other essential services is access to fuel," said Kevin Dahill, chief executive of the Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council, the trade group for Long Island's 24 hospitals. "The ability for staff to report to work is becoming compromised."

Catholic Health Services was encouraging people at its six hospitals to carpool and was arranging overnight stays if necessary, spokeswoman Christine Hendriks said. North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System set up a shuttle service and a message board for people to car pool.

In some spots, fires broke out -- from residents using candles for light, fireplaces and heaters for warmth, and damaged electronics that ignited blazes when power was turned back on.

Early Friday, a Valley Stream house was damaged by fire after a woman placed gas containers on her porch for storage and then lit a candle to see because it was dark, police said. It was not clear if gas fumes were ignited or if spilled fuel was ignited by the candles. Nassau County police said the woman was not injured.

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