3 Nov 2012

US officials tap into petrol reserves after Sandy hits

6:27 pm on 3 November 2012

The United States government is trying to ease a chronic petrol shortage and queues of angry motorists, following giant storm Sandy, by tapping into strategic reserves.

It is also waiving rules that bar foreign-flagged ships from bringing in petrol and diesel from the Gulf of Mexico.

More than 3 million are still without electricity across the northeast of the country.

The storm killed at least 102 people when it slammed into the north east on Tuesday bringing a record storm surge to coastal areas. Forty-one died in New York City, about half of them in Staten Island which was overrun by a wall of water.

Teams have been scouring beaches and going house-to-house in Staten Island and other neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey looking for bodies.

New York City cancelled its annual marathon, one of the country's premier distance-running events, after rising criticism from residents that the city should focus on recovery.

Reuters reports New York locals were critical of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's earlier decision to proceed with the event on Sunday even though he had vowed it would not divert any resources from storm victims.

Adding to frustration, acute petrol shortages in the city's storm-battered outer boroughs and New Jersey led to long lines that formed before dawn on Friday.

Police were in place at many spots to keep the peace between furious, frustrated drivers.

Tankers finally began entering New York Harbor on Thursday, and a tanker carrying 2 million barrels of petrol arrived at 2am on Friday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

Less than 40% of petrol stations in New York City, Long Island and New Jersey operated on Thursday because of a combination of power outages and constricted supplies after the storm devastated the energy industry's ability to move fuel into and around the New York City region.

US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said the first priority was to make sure everyone was safe.

"People are now going door to door. One of my concerns, I think, all of our concerns is that as the temperature drops with power still out in many neighbourhoods, making sure that everybody is safe and if they need to get to a warm place, that we are able to do that."

While power was expected to be returned throughout Manhattan by Saturday, it could be another week or more in suburbs and more distant towns along the coast, Reuters said.

Forecasts for colder temperatures only added to the tension, since many in New Jersey and elsewhere have been using fuel-powered generators to run lights and heaters while waiting for utilities to repair downed power lines.