NEW YORK — They stood like refugees, clutching jerry cans in an icy wind and waiting behind a gas truck to fill their 5-gallon containers. Across the street, others lined up to ask for help, with wish lists reflecting the enormity of their needs: a car to replace one washed away; money for a family of five in a hotel; advice on rebuilding a business.
Any sense that New York City was returning to normal 11 days after Superstorm Sandy was swept away Thursday after a nor'easter made a terrible situation nearly unbearable in areas still struggling to recover from Sandy. The new storm cut power to about 100,000 people, and was blamed for the death of a man in Burlington, N.J. But the greatest problem was the freezing rain, sleet and snow — 9 to 12 inches fell in some areas — for those who are running out of patience.
"I'm fed up. I'm fed up," Wale Kiladejo said as he waited with his wife, Eunice, to speak to someone at one of the mobile centers set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency on the Rockaway Peninsula in the New York City borough of Queens. "Around this area, nothing is back to normal. But you go to Manhattan where all the rich people live, they have power."
Could it get any worse?
"No. Seriously, no," said Joan Fitzgerald. "It's just a nightmare."
Residents trudged along an avenue lined with wood-frame homes whose porches once overlooked an idyllic scene: a sandy beach on Jamaica Bay, the skyline of Manhattan visible in the distance. Today, the view is of discarded household items. The houses were nearly all flooded, and the porches and yards that once housed barbecues and bicycles were heaped with sandbags, mud and generators.
"We have nothing. We have no gas. We have no electricity," said Adam Bishop, a Brooklyn firefighter.
Residents weren't alone in losing their tempers. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered a blistering attack on his state's utility companies, in particular the Long Island Power Authority and National Grid on Long Island. The back-to-back storms exposed the vulnerabilities of the state's power companies and fuel delivery services, he said. "I believe they were unprepared; I believe the system is archaic."
About 188,000 Long Islanders remained without power Thursday morning.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, following the lead of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, ordered gas rationing to ease the crisis. Bloomberg said vehicles with license plates ending in even numbers or zero will be allowed to buy gas on even-numbered days, such as Nov. 10, while drivers with plates ending in an odd number or a letter can buy fuel on other days.
"Frustrations are only growing. And it now appears that there will be shortages for possibly another couple weeks," Bloomberg said.
The federal coordination officer for FEMA, Michael Byrne, said the agency was doing the best it could under circumstances that tested even those in the business of dealing with disasters. So fierce was the wind from the nor'easter that one of the giant white tents sent up to house a mobile FEMA center in a parking lot in Queens had blown down.
The center and other mobile units were running again Thursday afternoon, handing out blankets, meals, water and advice to the desperate crowds that gathered through the day.
"We're here. We've established a presence to make them realize they're not alone," said Byrne. But he warned that full recovery "is going to take a long, long time."