- Last Updated: 6:12 AM, November 4, 2012
- Posted: 1:20 AM, November 4, 2012
Free gas came with gallons of chaos.
Thousands of fuel-starved New Yorkers were able to get much needed gasoline from the government at no cost yesterday, but not without a high-octane fit of confusion and double talk from state and federal authorities.
The trouble-plagued giveaway began when Gov. Cuomo’s office announced in the morning that officials would try to ease the post-Sandy gas crisis by giving out free fuel to both “emergency vehicles and the general public.”
The gas was to be dispensed from trucks at five locations around the area — and throngs of desperate drivers showed up to fill their tanks.
But by the afternoon Cuomo spokeman Matt Wing rolled back the offer of free gas, announcing that fuel was intended for emergency vehicles first and foremost.
The change came after the US Department of Defense — which provided the gas in coordination with the National Guard — said the gas was only for first responders.
A Cuomo-administration source blamed the mix up on the military.
“They told us. We simply conveyed the information provided by them,” the source said. “We had nothing to do with the execution. We didn’t select the sites. It wasn’t our trucks. It wasn’t our people. It’s not our fault.”
Cuomo’s office took the offer off its Web site later in the day.
“Right now, they’re not supposed to be for civilians at all — just the emergency-responder vehicles,” Wing said.
Nevertheless, many civilian drivers were able to continue filling up at free stations at Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Freeport, LI. At a location in The Bronx, civilians were barred from getting the fuel.
Nevertheless, all those stations were barraged with gas seekers.
“I just hope the National Guard and the cops can keep all of these people under control,” said Jennifer Jenkins, 29, as she waited on line at a fueling station in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
The Crown Heights facility had three lines — one for first responders, one for pedestrians and one for cars. The lines for cars and pedestrians armed with Poland Spring bottles and gasoline containers stretched four blocks.
The National Guard watched over two tankers there and doled out fuel on a first-come, first-served basis.
At first, the police weren’t going to let people with containers get gas — just cars — but all the fuel-starved eventually were served.
“The guidance is to get gas to first responders, but we’re also pushing regular people through,” admitted Captain Terry Benson of the National Guard’s 69th Infantry Regiment.
But regular people like Belaniel Daley were fed up.
“I’ve been at the front of the line for 2 1/2 hours and now they want to move the tanker and they’re just giving to the first responders, who I’m sure are getting gas for their family and friends,” said Daley, 45. “I need this gas to get my kid to school.”
Cuomo also noted yesterday that 8 million gallons of gasoline and other petroleum products are now available — and 28 million more are on their way.
Meanwhile, more yellow cabs in the city stopped picking up passengers because filling-station gas tanks are parched. One expert estimated that only 5,000 of the city’s 13,237 cabs are currently running.
Elected officials in both New York and New Jersey said they’d push for laws requiring gas stations to have generators to supply fuel in a similar crisis.
“This whole generator issue needs to be addressed,” said Councilwoman Gale Brewer.
In New Jersey, tensions simmered on gas-rationing lines. The rationing, which went into effect at noon yesterday, allows drivers with license plates ending in an even number to buy gas on even-numbered days, and those with plates ending in an odd number on odd-numbered days.