Gas Lines & Heated Homes

Sandy hits home for CSP vice president and group editor

Mitch Morrison, Vice President of Retailer Relations

PASSAIC, N.J. -- Move up. Move up.

The fuel attendant at the Delta station on the corner of Broadway and Brook Avenue barks, peering momentarily and shaking his head. A line of vehicles worms nearly a mile, stretching across two intersections bringing weekend traffic to a halt in this Northern Jersey community.

Adhering to the orders of Gov. Chris Christie, we're playing odds and evens this weekend. On Saturday, cars ending with odd numbers line up and wait … and wait. The Delta station here has received a 10,000-gallon shipment and will pump until its dry.

The situation is severe. The four stations a mile away on Main Avenue--Lukoil, Sunoco and two Delta sites--remain closed as 80-mph wind gusts ripped down a transformer on this commercial strip last Monday night. Nearby stations along thoroughfares either are out of gas or shut down due to power outages.

The gridlock is accompanied by down trees, drooping cable and phone wires and fallen debris. "This looks like Beirut," one Middle Eastern man shares.

A woman gripping a five-gallon red gasoline can, who like several dozen in front of her walked blocks to pick up some fuel to feed her dry car, compares the situation to musical chairs. "As soon as you hear some station has gas everyone does a beeline."

It's true. As I head to Sports Authority off Route 3 in Clifton, authorities erect roadblocks, creating a lithe pathway to a nearby Costco that has resumed selling fuel. The line almost instantly snakes a mile long, pass a cemetery and church. The wait, one patrolman predicts, will near two hours.

Others are plying their smartphones, typing and checking which stations in their zip codes are open and which have no fuel.

The fear of empty tanks takes hold, so much so that families are scheduling their day around getting gas. Late Sunday afternoon, a friend comes by. "I got lucky. It only took me two hours to get gas," she said with earnestness. "I've heard of people who had to wait three or four hours and when it was their turn, the station was closed."

How life has changed in just a week's time.

On Sunday, Oct. 28, when word of Sandy had whipped up before the gusts did, I waited in line for 20 minutes, behind more than a dozen cars, to top off our minivan. I had wondered whether it was worth the wait but figured I should stay the course just in case. By Monday morning, on the eve of what would become the worst national disaster in the Northeast in more than a century, at least 10 stations within a mile's drive were closed, with no deliveries in sight.

We lost our power for five days, from Monday evening through Saturday.

In addition to the tragedies, interruptions and inconveniences, there is another story – one of community.

A man name George started a group email uniting the "Haves" and the "Have Nots," those with power and those without. He encouraged his readers to spread the word.

People with power were taking in those without for lodging, for meals, for warmth. With our office in Lower Manhattan shuttered due to major flooding and with my home without heat and electricity, I worked a few days last week from the basement of a friend's home, and the kitchen of another friend. When my family and I returned home Saturday night, we immediately reached out to those without power and on Sunday took in a family with four children.

Similar scenes continue to play out across our area: Churches and synagogues hosting pot-luck dinners; a shopping mall turning into a daytime shelter, inviting thousands of folks from the cold; schools with power extending operating hours and inviting parents to dine in the cafeteria.

"I know this isn't going to last," one man said to me about the incredible sense of neighborhood. "But I feel much better knowing I wasn't on my own."

Mitch Morrison is vice president and group editor of CSP Business Media. He can be reached at [email protected].

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