Gas rationed in New York as power outages persist

A new gasoline rationing plan that lets motorists fill up every other day went into effect in New York this morning as a nor'easter that knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of new people erased some of the progress made by utility crews.

Hundreds of thousands still without electricity after nor'easter storm

Gas rationing in New York 0:39

A new gasoline rationing plan that lets motorists fill up every other day went into effect in New York as a nor'easter storm that knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of new people erased some of the progress made by utility crews.

The region is still struggling to recover from the devastation of superstorm Sandy.

Police were at gas stations Friday morning to enforce the new system in New York City and on Long Island. Drivers were out before dawn to line up for their rations.

"This is designed to let everybody have a fair chance, so the lines aren't too oppressive and that we can get through this," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.     

A New York City Police Department officer manages the line of cars waiting for gasoline on Friday as a new gasoline rationing plan went into effect. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

Customers at a Hess Station in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen neighbourhood said the rationing system appeared to be working.

Luis Cruz, 35, of the Bronx got gas for the Dodge minivan that he uses for his job as a pet chauffeur.   

"It's a lot better," Cruz said. "A couple of days ago I waited four hours. They should have done this a long time ago."  

The line to the station was just a block and a half long Friday morning and customers said they waited about 15 minutes to gas up.

Only a quarter of the city's gas stations were open Thursday, the mayor said.

Some were closed because they were out of power, others because they can't get fuel from terminals and storage tanks that can't unload their cargo.

Temporary ferry service while subways suspended

The nor'easter brought gusting winds, rain and snow on Wednesday and early Thursday before it moved on. Snow blanketed several states from New York to New England, and stymied recovery efforts from superstorm Sandy as additional storm-weakened trees snapped and more power lines came down.

However, commuters from the Rockaway Peninsula of Long Island, which was hard hit by the superstorm, got some relief on Friday.

A new temporary ferry service between Rockaway and Manhattan will be launched on Monday morning to help commuters while subway service is suspended, it was announced.

Bloomberg, the New York City Development Corporation and Seastreak ferry company struck a partnership to provide the service.

"Until the reopening of subway service to the rest of the city is restored from the Rockaways, this temporary option will assist thousands of New Yorkers most impacted by this storm, allowing our city and our economy to take another step on the road to recovery," said New York City Economic Development Corporation president Seth W. Pinsky in a statement.

Hundreds of thousands still without power

Hundreds of thousands of utility customers, mostly in New York and New Jersey, have been left still waiting for their electricity to come back on — and some are losing patience, demanding investigations of utilities they say aren't working fast enough. 

An angry Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined the calls for an investigation Thursday, ripping the utilities as unprepared and badly managed.     

"It's unacceptable the longer it goes on because the longer it goes on, people's suffering is worse," he said.     

Cuomo appears to be all by himself among the New York area's big three politicians. Bloomberg defended the city's power company, Consolidated Edison, and said it has done a good job in recent years.

And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie praised the utilities, saying he expects all of his state to have power back by early Sunday.  

[IMAGEGALLERY galleryid=3332 size=small]

The utilities have said they are dealing with damage unprecedented in its scope and are doing the best they can. And there is no denying the magnitude of what they have done: At the peak, more than 8.5 million homes and businesses across 21 states lost power during Sandy.  

Early Friday, there were more than 220,000 outages left in the New York area, mostly on Long Island, and about 250,000 in New Jersey. Almost all Connecticut residents had lights again, down from 625,000 at the storm's height.

New York damage estimated at $33B   

The mounting criticism of utility companies came as New York City and Long Island followed New Jersey's lead and announced odd-even gasoline rationing to deal with fuel shortages and long lines at gas stations; the Federal Emergency Management Agency started bringing mobile homes into the region; and Cuomo said the storm could cost New York State alone $33 billion US.     

People line up with containers as they wait in line to get gas at a station in New York, where rationing begins at 6 a.m. on Friday. (Kathy Willens/Associated Press)

New Jersey did not have a damage estimate of its own, but others have put Sandy's overall toll at up to $50 billion, making it the second most expensive storm in U.S. history, behind Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans in 2005.  

In New Jersey, where officials made the move nearly a week ago to institute gas rationing, price-gouging lawsuits have been filed against seven stations. They raised pump prices anywhere from 17 to 59 per cent higher during the state of emergency related to the storm, Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said Friday.  

The gas rationing plan came into effect at 5 a.m. Friday on Long Island and at 6 a.m. in New York City. Officials said it was imposed because something had to be done to ease the long waits for fuel, which they say has caused panic-buying and hoarding.     

Gas will be available to drivers with license-plate numbers ending in an odd number or a letter on Friday. On Saturday, drivers with license plates that end in even numbers or zero can fuel up.     

Buses, taxes and limousines, commercial vehicles and emergency vehicles are exempt from the plan, as are people carrying portable gas cans. Vanity plates that don't have numbers are considered odd-numbered plates. Out-of-state drivers are also subject to the system.     

Bloomberg said the shortages could last another couple of weeks.