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Howell, New Jersey (AFP) Nov 1, 2012
Past the downed trees and power lines that litter northern New Jersey's sprawling towns, motorists are spending hours waiting at gas stations where quick refueling stops were once the norm.
In Howell, like many other mid-size US cities, it is virtually impossible to live without a car, and at one Wawa gas station in the city, more than 300 vehicles were lined up, snaking to the edge of a major highway.
Waits averaged at least an hour, but residents said they were determined to fill up, however long it took.
"What can you do? We could stay at home freezing without electricity, or we can sit here in the warm car and get gas to keep the car going," said Liz Bloodgood, in her maroon Mazda with her daughter, Alicia Frye.
Bloodgood said she saw one car speed to the front and cut into the line, but the other motorists banded together and honked down the line-jumper.
The long lines have become a common sight across northern New Jersey and parts of New York.
Stations that lost power or suffered damage have been unable to reopen, and many others simply no longer have any fuel to sell, with demand skyrocketing and fuel trucks often unable to make deliveries.
Mary Goepfert, a spokeswoman at New Jersey's Office of Emergency Management, said the state was suffering "widespread" gas station closures, but could not give an exact number or percentage.
"Part of the issue is that there's a pipeline in northern New Jersey that's affected because of the power outages," she told AFP. "Once the power's up, we'll be in much better shape."
Despite the frustrating waits, most motorists have queued patiently.
Brianne Glennon, 19, said she filled up her Jeep ahead of Sandy but waited an hour and 10 minutes to refill it in Howell on Thursday. She said she had heard stories of people waiting three hours immediately after the storm.
Mike Jones said he had waited three hours on Thursday, after first driving an hour and a half to find an open station. He filled five gallons into his handheld red canister.
"It's not too much fun, and I'm going to have to come back for more. But, hey, it's not like there are too many gas stations open right now, so what are you going to do?" he said.
New Jersey does not allow motorists to fill their cars themselves, instead requiring attendants, a quirk that some people said had made it more difficult for stations to reopen because each station needs a fuller labor force.
At the Wawa station, the credit card machine was also down, forcing customers to use a cash machine on site.
"Some people wait in line for three hours and then they come to find out that they can't use their card -- it's only cash," said motorist Steve Rogers.
But another man named Steve, who drove his Cadillac to the pump and declined to give his surname, said that it was important to keep the long waits in perspective after the killer storm.
"It's a minor inconvenience compared with what some people are going through right now," he said.
In New York City and surrounding areas, residents were experiencing similarly long lines and frustrations, but there was a glimmer of hope for them with news that the New York port was reopening for fuel shipments.
New York Senator Chuck Schumer said in a statement that reopening the port, which was shut down as Sandy approached, would allow "critical fuel shipments to resume to the region."
"There are a number of factors that are causing gas shortages and massive lines at the pump, but one of the critical ones was simply a lack of supply, and today we're announcing that has been addressed," he said.
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