NEW YORK — New York announced gasoline rationing Thursday to address a fuel crisis sparked by superstorm Sandy, as tens of thousands more people lost electricity and officials prepared to deploy emergency mobile homes.
Echoing 1970s energy shortages, America’s biggest city and financial capital was to restrict sales starting at 6:00 am (1100 GMT) Friday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced. He did not say when the measure would end.
Cars with license plates ending in odd numbers will be allowed to fill up on odd-numbered dates. Cars with plates ending in an even number or a zero will be eligible on even-numbered days, with police deployed to enforce the rules.
Officials hoped the move would cut enormous lines of increasingly desperate drivers at city gas stations, a shortage that has created a black market where unscrupulous online sellers offer fuel at more than twice the industry rate.
A similar scheme was earlier implemented in neighboring New Jersey after hurricane-strength Sandy, accompanied by severe flooding, wrecked crucial infrastructure last week.
However, Bloomberg’s announcement, which does not affect medical, commercial and emergency services vehicles, came as a surprise.
“This is not a step that we take lightly,” Bloomberg told a press conference, noting that other measures, including streamlining procedures for tanker deliveries in ports, had been inadequate.
“Only 25 percent of our gas stations we estimate are open,” he conceded. “Frustrations are only growing and it now appears there will be shortages for possibly another couple weeks.”
In the wider New York urban area, as many as 38 percent of stations are out of order, US Department of Energy figures showed.
There was more bad news for the New York area with a spike in power outages as a result of a brief, but snowy storm that struck Wednesday, coming hard on the heels of Sandy.
The US Department of Energy said that a total of 761,418 homes and businesses across six states were in the dark. This was 110,000 more than before the Nor’easter storm struck.
New York and New Jersey have been hardest hit over the last 10 days, with 343,211 customers left without power in New York state alone.
More than 110 people died across the US northeast during Sandy, which began as a deadly Caribbean hurricane before driving into New Jersey on October 29. In New York City, authorities reported that the local death toll reached 41 when an elderly man was found dead in his building.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo estimated that Sandy and its aftermath had caused $50 billion in damage, with New York state bearing $33 billion of that.
The Nor’easter, which brought record snowfall for this season of 4.7 inches (11.9 centimeters) in New York’s Central Park, added “insult to injury,” Cuomo said.
Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said that trailers would be brought soon to the New York area for people forced to leave their homes.
“We’re actually moving now manufactured housing to the area. We don’t have specific locations yet,” FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said.
The Nor’easter, with driving rain and snow, was much less strong but spread misery in a region where the National Guard and local emergency services are still handing out hundreds of thousands of meals, blankets, water and other vital supplies.
However, with the snow melting and better weather forecast for the coming days, recovery efforts were expected to pick up again quickly.
Airlines that shut down flights around New York on Wednesday were running normally again. John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports all had minimal delays, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.