x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

New York power problems improve but fuel rationed

Manhattan no longer resembles 'some sort of ghost town or horror movie', power official says.

NEW YORK // Electricity finally returned to Manhattan yesterday and the subway was running more smoothly, but severe gasoline shortages threatened New York's attempt to recover from superstorm Sandy.

Power was restored to nearly all of Manhattan after flooding plunged the lower half of New York's most densely populated borough and famous skyline into darkness.

Bob McGee, a spokesman for utility company Con Edison, said Manhattan would no longer resemble "some sort of ghost town or horror movie".

Crews were also working to restore supplies both to schools – set to reopen Monday – and for polling places to be used in Tuesday's presidential election.

However, 40 per cent of those who lost power, or somewhere under 900,000 people, continued to experience widespread outages that could last for as long as another week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told a news conference.

For many, that also meant no heating just as temperatures are dropping in the New York area, with a windy, rainy fall storm forecast for Wednesday. On Long Island, another 550,000 people were without power, down from 1.2 million people initially, Cuomo said.

As New Jersey police raised the state's death toll to 22, increasing the overall US total to at least 103, the biggest hurdle to recovery continued to be a severe lack of gasoline.

Immense lines of cars and people on foot clutching canisters snaked back from gas stations as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced rationing.

Starting Saturday, drivers with licence plates ending in an even number were only allowed to fill up on even-numbered dates, while those whose plates end in odd numbers plates had to wait for odd-number dates.

"This system will ease the strain on those gas stations still operating, while we work to bring more online for the public to access fuel, in a manner that is fair, easy to understand, and less stressful," Christie said.

Meanwhile, New York officials announced the deployment of military fuel trucks offering 10 gallons of gasoline to drivers free of charge.

Cuomo said the critical situation should ease rapidly since delays in the arrival of fuel ships had been remedied.

"Eight million gallons of fuel have been delivered," he said. "Twenty-eight million gallons will be delivered over the next two days, so you will see quickly an abatement of the pressure on the fuel system."

"You don't have to panic," he added.

However, relief came slower than hoped for when officials told drivers to stay away from makeshift fuel stations so that emergency vehicles could fill up first. At one site in the Bronx, the promised fuel tanker hadn't arrived by late afternoon, according to an AFP correspondent.

Still, there was some good news in the wake of one of the most damaging storms in US history.

The city's subway system was 80 per cent up and running, Cuomo said, as the transit authority ended the suspension of fares that had allowed New Yorkers to ride free during the calamity's immediate aftermath.

But frustrations were increasingly boiling over in the worst hit neighbourhoods.

On a visit to the far flung community of Rockaway Beach, which was severely flooded, Mayor Michael Bloomberg got an earful from angry residents.

"When are we going to get some help?" a woman yelled repeatedly at the mayor before being ushered away by police in an encounter broadcast by NY1.

There was also commotion over the abrupt cancellation of Sunday's annual New York marathon.

Critics said the huge sporting event, to be attended by 47,000 runners from all over the world, would divert police and other resources when hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers were still without heat or light.

Bloomberg, who earlier insisted the race should take place, bowed to pressure on Friday.

But that upset many of the runners who had spent heavily to come to New York.

"I am gutted," said Frenchman Jean-Michel Laurent. "This was a present I gave myself for my 60th. This cost me 3,000 euros. I don't think I'll be able to do it again."

Wednesday's bad weather was not expected to approach the severity of Sandy, but will still be miserable for people living in unheated and already damp houses.

The Red Cross said on Saturday it was accelerating efforts to set up enough warming shelters in time.

"Red Cross' operational priorities right now are logistics, feeding and preparing for the pending storm," Red Cross official Charley Shimanski told a news conference.

Throughout the region, "we're working closely with emergency operations centers to stand up warming facilities, warming shelters, and stocking those with additional blankets, pillows and everything needed to make sure to take care of folks after the storm," Shimanski said.