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Gov. Cuomo to New York: 'There is no reason to panic'

November 02, 2012|By Michael Muskal and Molly Hennessy-Fiske

New York and federal officials moved to increase fuel supplies Friday even as long lines at gas stations continued to shorten tempers in the region hit hard by Sandy.

Both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said they were hopeful that Consolidated Edison would be able to return electricity to Lower Manhattan by midnight.

“There is no reason to panic, there is no reason for anxiety,” Cuomo said in a televised briefing Friday. “No panic, no anxiety. We ask for a little patience.”

Returning power to Manhattan could also help defuse some of the anger in parts of the city over Sunday’s scheduled running of the annual New York Marathon. Electrical generators have been set up outside Central Park, the finish line of the 26.2-mile race. Many people have complained that those generators could be put to better use helping residents farther downtown who have had to deal with lack of electricity since Sandy ravaged the region Monday.

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The marathon has become a political symbol for Staten Island, where the race begins. Many there, including elected officials, have argued that the borough needs food, shelter and gasoline, not a race in which people run away from the island to the rest of the city. About half of the 40 people who died in the storm in the city were on Staten Island. Nationally, about 95 deaths have been reported.

At a televised news conference Friday, Bloomberg repeated his defense of the marathon as a tool to help boost morale. More than 40,000 runners will travel through each of the city’s boroughs, where hundreds of thousands of people traditionally line the route to cheer the athletes. The event draws tens of thousands of tourists and hundreds of millions of dollars to the city as well.

“New York has to show we are here and we are going to recover,” Bloomberg said. The race will also give “people something to cheer about in what has been a dismal week for a lot of people,” he said.

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Bloomberg said there was precedent for allowing the marathon after a tragedy and cited then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who allowed the race two months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“If you go back to 9/11, Rudy made the right decision in those days to run the marathon and pull people together,” Bloomberg said. He said the marathon's organizers are “running this race to help New York City, and the donations from all the runners in the club will be a great help for our relief efforts.”

One key to the relief effort was the availability of gasoline for cars and home generators, especially in New Jersey. Gas stations had trouble getting new deliveries as they ran out of fuel. Many stations closed because they couldn’t get electricity to run their pumps.

At stations along the Garden State Parkway, lines of cars stretched for miles, and police were stationed at the pumps. Some cars were stopped on the shoulder, drivers hauling gas cans to the nearest rest stop. Some rest stops were not even pumping, with orange neon signs on the parkway warning “No fuel.”

The scene around Lakewood, N.J., was repeated thousands of times across the metropolitan region. The line at an Exxon station was a dozen cars long. Down the road, people were camped out a station, waiting. A police officer was parked nearby.

Jignesh Shah, the owner of an Exxon station, said his pumps have been running dry every six to seven hours. Shah said he'd received a delivery of 8,800 gallons Friday morning, and expected it to be gone by early afternoon.

“This has been a madhouse since it started,” Walt Must, 56, a lawyer from Toms River, N.J., said of the gasoline situation.

Noting the complaints about fuel lines, officials sought to reassure people that all forms of help were on the way.

Cuomo announced that he signed an executive order to speed the distribution of gasoline, diesel and kerosene in New York. Usually distributors must register with  state tax officials, but the executive order temporarily suspends that requirement.

On the federal level, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano temporarily waived the Jones Act. The waiver means that foreign oil tankers coming from the Gulf of Mexico can go to northeastern ports with fuel to help ease the shortage. The act is suspended until Nov. 13, she announced.

“The administration's highest priority is ensuring the health and safety of those impacted by Hurricane Sandy, and this waiver will remove a potential obstacle to bringing additional fuel to the storm damaged region,” Napolitano said in a statement.

During his briefing, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate told reporters that the move is part of federal efforts to increase supply. Fugate also said that the Environmental Protection Agency has moved to relax anti-pollution rules on fuel blends to increase the amount of gasoline available.

More than just cars were being helped. Officials continued working to bring back New York’s subway system, where some limited service has returned. Stations south of 34th Street were closed by the lack of electricity and flooded tunnels blocked other routes.

Crews have pumped much of the water out of subway stations and tunnels, but officials said it could still be several days or longer before full service is restored.

Electronic signals, tracks, heating vents, public-address systems, fare collection machines and lighting all need to be inspected for damage before the stations can be deemed fit for passengers and employees.

“Pumping water is the first step of many steps,” said Frank Jezycki, chief infrastructure officer for the city’s subway system.

Muskal reported from Los Angeles and Hennessy-Fiske from Lakewood, N.J. Staff writers Richard Simon in Washington and Shashank Bengali in New York contributed to this report.

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