NEW YORK, N.Y. - New York City started rationing gas Friday as tempers remained short, lines remained long and panic buying continued more than 10 days after a deadly superstorm stunned the infrastructure of America's largest city.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the shortages could last another couple of weeks and that only a quarter of the city's gas stations were open. Some had no power, and others couldn't get fuel from terminals.
"This is designed to let everybody have a fair chance," Bloomberg said of the new system, based on even-numbered and odd-numbered license plates, that lets drivers fill up every other day.
However, Bloomberg's estimate was countered by the Energy Department, which said that more than 70 per cent of the city's stations have gas available for sales.
The gas lines appeared to shrink Friday. "It's a lot better," said Manhattan driver Luis Cruz said. "A couple of days ago I waited four hours. They should have done this a long time ago." The line to his station was just a block and a half long. Before Friday, some lines stretched for a mile (1.6 kilometres) or more.
Superstorm Sandy killed more than 100 people in several states, most of them in New York and New Jersey, and its damage has been estimated at up to $50 billion. That makes it the second most expensive storm in U.S. history, behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said President Barack Obama plans to travel to New York on Thursday to view recovery efforts and meet with affected families, local officials and first. Obama visited New Jersey shortly after Sandy hit, but Mayor Bloomberg asked him not come to New York because a presidential visit would complicate recovery efforts in the city.
By Friday, the Red Cross had raised $117 million in donations and pledges for relief work across 10 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The Salvation Army had raised $5 million online and by phone.
Red Cross Senior Vice-President Roger Lowe said it would likely be the charity's largest U.S. effort since Katrina. Salvation Army Major Darryl Leedom said the population density of the Northeast may require a response that surpasses Katrina in the number of people served and resources required.
The Red Cross said it has deployed nearly every emergency response vehicle in its fleet with 5,800 workers and volunteers. It has served more than 3.2 million meals and snacks and provided more than 110,000 shelter stays along with other charities and government agencies.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Thursday that it had started to move several hundred mobile homes into New York and New Jersey for the tens of thousands who have to leave their damaged homes as winter weather arrives.
The Energy Department has said the superstorm also left more people in the dark than any other storm in U.S. history. At the peak, more than 8.5 million homes and businesses across 21 states lost power.
As drivers waited on police-monitored lines for gas, thousands more in the region got their power back for the first time since Sandy came ashore 12 days ago.
Still, nearly 400,000 customers were without power in New Jersey and the New York City area. President Barack Obama, who visited the battered Jersey coast two days after the storm, said he would survey the damage from the storm in New York next week.
An angry New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo blasted the local 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 Thursday.
The utilities have said they are dealing with damage unprecedented in its scope.
A new, weaker storm on Wednesday dropped a layer of wet snow and knocked out power to more than 200,000 customers in New York and New Jersey, erasing some of the progress made by utility crews.
The Edison Electric Institute, the industry's main lobbying group, has called restoring power in Sandy's wake the "single biggest task the utility industry has ever faced."
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Tom Hays, Frank Eltman, Kiley Armstrong, Jonathan Fahey, Colleen Long, David B. Caruso and Jennifer Peltz in New York; Mike Gormley in Albany, New York and Wayne Perry in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey.