As cars stretched for miles and hundreds of people waited for the gas pumps to begin flowing, Corey Hill and his girlfriend, Rashidah Blair, stood hugging in the cold in front of the convenient store at a Hess gas station in Ozone Park, Queens on Thursday.
With his arms wrapped around Blair, Hill held two five-gallon red gasoline cans in his hands. A third can sat at their feet. They had been searching for 10 hours, Hill said, traversing Long Island, where they live, Brooklyn and Queens before arriving here, at the intersection of Cross Bay and Linden Boulevards, at the lone operating station for miles in any direction.
The station had plenty of gas, an employee said, and an electrical team had just arrived to turn on the tractor-trailer sized generator needed to power the pumps.
As the generator began to run, an argument about who would get gas first — those with cars or those with cans – elevated. A swell of people began to form just a few feet away from where Hill and Blair stood.
“Everywhere all over the world, they fight over gas,” Hill cracked. “Even in New York.”
Moments later, Ali Guvercin, who said he had been waiting at the station since 8 a.m., barked at Blair and Hill to form a line with the rest of the crowd hoping to fill portable cans. They snapped.
In seconds, Hill and Blair were two of the main culprits amid a throng of yelling patrons jockeying for position in fuel frenzy. Four letter words filled the air and punches were nearly thrown before two gas station attendants intervened.
Gas is at a premium now, and, at least at this Hess station, some New Yorkers were willing to fight for it. The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy has left much of the Tri-State area in search of gas — to operate cars and generators — as stations throughout the region remain out of service. On Friday evening, The New York Times reported that the Defense Department would deliver 24 million gallons of extra fuel to the region and reopen the area’s ports to ships loaded with fuel.
Relief can’t come fast enough. On Thursday, any of the people trying to fill up at the Hess in Ozone Park had traveled far and wide trying to find gasoline.
“I’ve been searching for gas since 4 a.m., believe it or not,” said Guvercin, 45, who lives in Broad Channel, Queens. “I went from Astoria, Queens. I wound up in Brooklyn. No gas. I wound up in Bellerose, Queens. No gas. I went to Hollis [Queens]. No gas. I went as far as Floral Park — all around, basically. There’s no gas. It was all sold out and no electricity.”
The Hess on Cross Bay, however, had a generator big enough, and a supply of gas, to begin serving the droves of people in need for the first time since last Sunday. An employee said they had enough to last a couple of days, but with such high demand, that couldn’t be certain.
By the time the station was operating fully, NYPD traffic enforcement was helping to organize the countless number of cars trying to gain access to pumps. A crew of fire fighters arrived from Red Hook, Brooklyn, to fill up cans.
One man stood in line with a garbage can to fill. Others held milk cartons and other empty plastic jugs. Most carried the red cans that Blair and Hill had.
Horns honked and arguments continued as desperate customers staked claim to their right to the $3.75-a-gallon fuel. Hill and Blair just hoped to fill up and get back to Long Island, where power had just come on in Hill’s house in Elmont early that morning after days without heat, lights and water.
It was dark by then and the couple was no longer hugging. The line of cars still had no end and more and more people were arriving with cans, desperate for gas in the wake of a devastating storm.
Text by Evan Burgos with multimedia by Steva Silva.