Gas rationing has begun on New York City and Long Island to relieve frustration and long lines at the pump as the region continues to recover from damage to fuel distribution caused by Sandy last week.
Mayor Bloomberg and officials in Nassau and Suffolk counties implemented the plan to ease extensive wait times, which had begun to cause panic-buying and hoarding by drivers desperate for a piece of the region's already limited supply of gasoline. Police officers were assigned to gas stations around New York City to enforce the plan Friday.
Drivers with license plates ending in an even number can purchase fuel only on even-numbered days and drivers with plates ending in an odd number can buy on odd-numbered days. Vanity plates or those that don't end in a number will be considered odd. Out-of-state drives must also comply with the rationing program.
At a Hess station in Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan, drivers said it appeared to be working so far.
"It's a lot better," said Luis Cruz, 35, as he gassed up a Dodge minivan. "A couple of days ago I waited four hours. They should have done this a long time ago."
The line to the station was just a block and a half long Friday morning, and customers said they waited about 15 minutes. Last week, some lines stretched for a mile or more.
The measure will continue into next week and is designed "to reduce the potential for disorder," Bloomberg said at City Hall Thursday.
On Long Island, rationing began at 5 a.m.; in New York City it started at 6 a.m. It does not apply to emergency vehicles, taxis or individuals with gas cans, officials said. Despite being exempt from the rationing, nervous taxi drivers continued to hoard gas Friday, with some filling up extra gas cans and stashing them in their back seats.
Bloomberg said only a quarter of the city's gas stations were open. Some were closed because they were out of power, others because they can't get fuel from terminals and storage tanks that can't unload their cargoes.
Bloomberg said the shortages could last another couple of weeks.
Sandy damaged ports that accept fuel tankers and flooded underground equipment that sends fuel through pipelines. Without power, fuel terminals weren't able to pump gasoline onto tanker trucks, and gas stations couldn't pump fuel into customers' cars.
The gas rationing followed New Jersey's lead nearly a week ago.
One good piece of news for Long Island commuters: the Queens-Midtown Tunnel reopened Friday, 11 days after it was flooded with nearly 30 million gallons of water.
Cuomo said Thursday that the critical link between Manhattan and Queens, which carries an average 78,000 vehicles in its two 1.6-mile tubes each weekday, would open in the morning.
The MTA said the city's tunnels, rail yards and bus depots suffered more damage from Sandy than ever before.
The toll plaza on the Queens side of the Midtown Tunnel was a 4-foot-high "raging river" at one point, the MTA said.
Also Thursday, limited L train service was restored between Brooklyn and Manhattan. The tunnel under the East River had been flooded with 15 feet of water for its entire length, officials said.
The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel remains closed.
Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York