Lights in lower Manhattan; misery in outer regions

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NEW YORK (AP) — The lights were back on Saturday in lower Manhattan, prompting screams of sweet relief from residents who had been plunged into darkness for nearly five days by Superstorm Sandy. But that joy contrasted with deepening resentment in the city’s outer boroughs and suburbs over a continued lack of power and maddening gas shortages.

Adding to the misery of those without power, heat or gasoline were dipping temperatures. Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged older residents without heat to move to shelters and said 25,000 blankets were being distributed across the city.

“We’re New Yorkers, and we’re going to get through it,” the mayor said. “But I don’t want anyone to think we’re out of the woods.”

Bloomberg also said that resolving gas shortages could take days. Lines snaked around gas stations for many blocks all over the stricken region, including northern New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie imposed rationing that recalled the worst days of fuel shortages of the 1970s.

Perhaps nowhere was the scene more confused than at a refueling station in Brooklyn, where the National Guard gave out free gas — an effort to alleviate the situation. There, a mass of honking cars, desperate drivers and people on foot, carrying containers from empty bleach bottles to five-gallon Poland Spring water jugs, was just the latest testament to the misery unleashed by Sandy.

“It’s chaos; it’s pandemonium out here,” said Chris Damon, who had been waiting for 3½ hours at the site and had circled the block five times. “It seems like nobody has any answers.”

Added Damon: “I feel like a victim of Hurricane Katrina. I never thought it could happen here in New York, but it’s happened.”

Damon, 42, had already been displaced to Brooklyn from his home in Queens, where he still lacked power, as did millions outside Manhattan — from Staten Island, the hardest-hit borough, to Westchester County and other suburban areas.

Domingo Isasi, waiting in a gas line on Staten Island, minced no words about the divide he perceived between Manhattan and the outer boroughs.

“The priorities are showing, simply by the fact that Manhattan got their power back,” he said, adding that Staten Islanders are used to being lower on the list. “We’re the bastard kids who keep getting slapped in the head and told to shut up,” he said.

At a gas giveaway station in Queens, the scene was calmer but not happier. More than 400 cars stretched for more than a dozen blocks, with one tanker filling cars one at a time. A police car pulled alongside a car about 250th in line, and officers told the driver they hoped there would still be gas by the time he got there.

The 5,000-gallon trucks from the Defense Department had been dispatched to five locations around the New York City metropolitan area. “Do not panic. I know there is anxiety about fuel,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

Hours later, after the long lines formed, state officials said the public should stay away from the refueling stations until emergency responders got their gas. National Guard Col. Richard Goldenberg added, however, that those who were already at the distribution sites would not be turned away.

Ten people were arrested at gas stations on Friday in various disputes over line jumping, police said. The police presence where there were gas lines was increased on Saturday. Still, there was one arrest for disorderly conduct at the armory in Brooklyn, where free gasoline was being distributed.

And fears about crime, especially at night in darkened neighborhoods, persisted. Officers in the Midland Beach section of Staten Island early Saturday saw a man in a Red Cross jacket checking the front doors of unoccupied houses and arrested him for burglary.

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