Power returns to lower Manhattan; gas crisis continues
Fuel supplies headed toward disaster zones in the tri-state area on Saturday and a million customers regained electricity ahead of a coming cold snap that threatened to add to the misery of coastal communities devastated by superstorm Sandy.
The power restorations relit the skyline in lower Manhattan for the first time in nearly a week and allowed 80% of subway service to resume, but 2.5 million homes and businesses still lacked power, down from 3.5 million on Friday.
The power outages combined with a heating oil shortage meant some homes could go cold as wintry weather sets in. Forecasters saw temperatures dipping into the upper 30s Fahrenheit (around 3 degrees Celsius) on Saturday night with similar low temperatures next week.
"There's no heating oil around," said Vincent Savino, the president of Statewide Oil and Heating, which usually supplies some 2,000 buildings across New York City. "I don't know how much fuel we have left: maybe a day or two."
The long, arduous recovery was taxing disaster victims and first responders strained by a week of emergency services.
The post-storm chaos also threatened to jumble Tuesday's election with President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney locked in a tight race.
"It's just breathtaking," said New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who ordered rationing that allows only half of all cars to buy gasoline each day. "I was there (at the Jersey Shore) yesterday and I will tell you, it looked like we had been bombed. There are homes in Bay Head on the beach that had been driven by the storm surge into the houses across the street."
Tight gasoline supplies have tested the patience of drivers and fist fights have broken out in mile-long lines of cars, but fuel was making its way to terminals after the U.S. Coast Guard reopened New York Harborto tanker traffic on Friday.
Alleviating one of the country's worst fuel chain disruptions since the energy shortage in the 1970s, some 8 million gallons of gasoline and other petroleum products have been delivered since Friday and another 28 million gallons was to be delivered this weekend, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told a news conference.
Still, at least 1,000 drivers queued up for free gas at the Freeport Armory in Long Island, only to be told the gasoline would not arrive for at least eight hours more, one driver said.
"There's just so many people getting very frustrated. People don't know what to do," said Lauren Popkoff, 49, a history teacher who had been in line for four hours.
The pumper used for the 5,000-gallon truck that had been expected at the site never showed, "so they could not pump from Freeport," a state military official said.
Moving to ease fuel shortages, the Obama administration directed the purchase of up to 12 million gallons of unleaded fuel and 10 million gallons of diesel, to be trucked to New York and New Jersey for distribution.
The government announced it would tap strategic reserves for diesel for emergency responders and waived rules that barred foreign-flagged ships from taking gasoline, diesel and other products from the Gulf of Mexico to Northeast ports.
Con Ed, battling what it called the worst natural disaster in the company's 180-year history, restored electricity to neighborhoods such as Wall Street, Chinatown and Greenwich Village in the pre-dawn hours, leaving 11,000 customers in Manhattan without service.
Con Ed said it had restored power to 70% of the 916,000 customers in the New York City area who were cut off.