Anger mounts in US storm zone over fuel shortages
NEW YORK, United States - New York commuters fought for car fuel at gas station forecourts Friday, November 2, while mayor Michael Bloomberg faced pressure to call off his city's famed marathon as it struggles to recover from superstorm Sandy.
The storm, one of the most severe in US history, has left at least 95 dead in 15 states and in Canada. The toll in New York City alone rose to 41 and at least 14 died in New Jersey, where searches of isolated areas continue.
New York and surrounding states are all battling to get moving again four days after the disaster and authorities say they are putting huge resources into restoring power, public transport and in getting food to the needy.
But fights erupted in huge queues at the few gas stations still operating, with some cities rationing fuel even for emergency services.
Police were called to several outlets in the New York region to keep order. One man in Queens who tried to drive his BMW vehicle ahead of others in line was charged with pulling a gun on another driver.
Many stations have fuel but none of the electricity needed to get pumps working and handle payments. Some station owners are refusing to open until police are on guard. Drivers say they are waiting up to 10 hours to fill up.
At Essex County in New Jersey, authorities were limiting police and fire vehicles to half a tank.
The American Automobile Association estimates that 60 percent of gas stations in New Jersey and 70 percent in New York's Long Island are closed. Authorities say 13 of the 34 fuel terminals around New York have no power.
Suffering Manhattan commuters are struggling with "significantly" fewer taxis according to the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission.
The government has brought in fuel from other states and reopened ports to get supplies moving.
Getting power back to the population is the other key source of friction.
The Con Edison company said it hopes to have power back to many of the 225,000 blacked out homes in by the end of Friday. But others in New York have been warned they will have to wait until November 11 before getting electricity again.
National Guard troops handed out 290,000 meals and 500,000 bottles of water in the first day of an emergency aid operation in New York, mayor Michael Bloomberg said. Hundreds also queued for free ice to preserve food given out in the city's Union Square.
But Bloomberg has faced fierce criticism for insisting that the New York Marathon, an international event with 45,000 runners, should go ahead as planned on Sunday.
A Twitter campaign and Internet petitions were launched demanding the race be called off.
Carolyn Quinn, speaker of the New York council and a frontrunner to succeed Bloomberg, joined a host of politicians saying it should have been canceled.
James Oddo, a city councillor for Staten Island, one of the New York districts worst hit by the storm, tweeted: "If they take one first responder from Staten Island to cover this marathon I will scream. We have people with no homes and no hope right now."
Bloomberg said New York pushed on with the marathon after the September 11, 2001 attacks and must do so again.
"You have to keep going and doing things," he said. "You can grieve, cry, and laugh all at the same time. That's what human beings are good at."
But community leaders in Staten Island have complained bitterly that they have been forgotten as aid pours into other districts. At least 18 people died in Staten Island where huge waves swept away homes.
State Island council president James Molinaro condemned even the lack of help from the Red Cross.
"I went to a shelter Monday night after the storm. People were coming in with no socks, with no shoes. They were in a desperate need. Their housing was destroyed. They were crying. Where was the Red Cross?" he said.
Staten Island has been devastated by tragedies such as the stories of brothers Connor and Brandon Moore, aged four and two, who were swept out of their mother's arms by a wave in the storm.
Their bodies were found in marshland near the seafront on Thursday.
Hurricane Sandy brought devastation throughout the Caribbean, hitting Haiti and Cuba especially hard before slamming into the United States and Canada on Monday. The overall death toll from the storm's passage is now at least 166. - Agence France-Presse