Long Lines at the Pumps

Signs like this one at the Getty station in East Hampton were all too familiar over the past week, as storm-related gas shortages made for long lines at the pumps. Story on A13. Morgan McGivern

    Word quickly spread, at midday on Tuesday, that 10 gallons of gas could be had, free of charge, at W.F. McCoy on Montauk Highway in Amagansett. By 12:30 p.m., a line of about 20 vehicles stretched from the service station to Cross Highway, blocking access to parking outside Brent’s General Store. Within minutes, two police officers had placed traffic cones and parked their cars so as to maintain access to parking and order on the road. The intersection was snarled as the lunchtime rush descended on Brent’s.
    The free gas resulted from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s delivery to the service station, on Monday night, of an estimated 6,500 gallons. Employees were required by FEMA to collect the license number and name of each recipient, and the quantity of gas given to them.
    As the South Fork recovers from the Oct. 29 “superstorm,” deliveries of gasoline to the East End remain sporadic and often unannounced, according to employees and owners of many local service stations. Deliveries, when they are made, may consist of half the quantity ordered, leaving both buyers and purveyors in the dark. While demand is sky-high, supply is largely a mystery.
    As of Tuesday afternoon, a number of stations were offering regular unleaded fuel, but not premium blends. Some stations had a small police presence, and those that did not had employees stationed far from the pumps, directing motorists and attempting to keep order. 
    In the days immediately following the storm, however, station owners described chaotic scenes as desperate motorists descended on any supply, often waiting two hours to reach a pump. Brian Raab, of Sam’s Service Station on Three Mile Harbor Road in East Hampton, described last Thursday’s “melee” at his station, which had received a fuel delivery before the storm.
    “We were closed for a day or so. As soon as we got power, we had a line of cars all the way back to One-Stop [on Springs-Fireplace Road]. On Thursday, it started about 10 a.m. We kept pumping until we were out of fuel at 1 o’clock the following morning. That was a promise we made to people — to stay open until we ran out of fuel.”
    On Monday, Mr. Raab said, fuel was delivered at 5 a.m., and the supply ran out in eight hours. He did not know when the next delivery would arrive. “Whenever we get it, we get it.”
    The supply at Schenck Fuels, on Newtown Lane in East Hampton, ran out on Friday afternoon but was replenished the following evening, said Chris Schenck. His station closed at 2 p.m. on Oct. 29, the day of the storm, but reopened the following morning. “We’re in the emergency-service business,” Mr. Schenck said. “We’re here when you need us.” Though deliveries have been sporadic, he said, “There’s plenty of gas on the island. There are so many transports trying to pick up at the terminals. They’ve been waiting, instead of an hour, which is normal, six or seven hours.”
    The rush to fill vehicles — and containers — began last Thursday, Mr. Schenck said, when reports of a gas shortage were broadcast nationally. “I shot from no wait to a two-hour wait, cars lined up all the way past the Middle School, which is insane,” he said, adding that he remained open until 7:30 that night, three and a half hours beyond normal closing time.
    In Montauk, Marshall and Sons never lost electricity, and as of Monday afternoon was the only service station in the hamlet with a supply of gas, according to Peter Rucano. “We have fuel and there’s a line wrapped around the building going to John’s Drive-In, probably 80 cars,” he said in the late afternoon. Motorists were limited to $50 worth of gas per car, Mr. Rucano said, though customers were offering to spend as much as $300.
    The situation was far bleaker at Sag Harbor Getty, said Jim Shelly, the owner. Through Tuesday afternoon, the station was still awaiting a shipment to replenish the supply that had run out on Oct. 27. “We ran out of fuel that day and had a delivery scheduled that night. It didn’t come,” he said. “They told me on Sunday it would come that day, so we put up signs saying ‘No gas until Monday,’ but it didn’t come Sunday. On Monday they said, ‘We’ll definitely be there tonight.’ ” But the storm struck on Monday, “so we still don’t have fuel.”
    Also in Sag Harbor, the Harbor Heights station on Route 114 had gas until Friday at around 1:30 p.m., said Pam Kern. The lines were long and the presence of Sag Harbor police helped, she said. Since then, she has called and waited, but no more gas deliveries have arrived.
    Yesterday morning, employees were concerned about a telephone pole shooting out sparks across from the station. Ms. Kern hoped it would not affect delivery.
    In contrast, drivers waited just 20 minutes to reach one of the many pumps at the Hess station in Wainscott on Saturday afternoon. From the entrance on Georgica Drive, employees directed vehicles into the service station and to a particular pump, while a police officer at the Montauk Highway entrance ensured that no one cut into the line.
    A woman who identified herself as the station’s manager directed a caller to the company’s corporate headquarters, at which the wait time to speak with an official exceeded 45 minutes. A recorded message stated, in part, “We will continue to make every effort to keep our sites supplied and ready to serve communities affected by the storm.”
    The uncertainty surrounding supply and the resulting rush to obtain fuel, on top of the damage and loss of electricity, cable, and Internet service, has frayed nerves on the East End, despite the minor amount of disruption and destruction relative to that on western Long Island and in New York City and New Jersey. Order and civility have been maintained at local service stations, for the most part. Police were at Marshall and Sons on Monday morning, said Mr. Rucano. “It was crazy. It gets out of hand because people try to pull in, but there is a line. We’ve got five guys directing traffic and getting the pumps organized.”
    A police car was outside Sam’s Service Station last Thursday and again on Sunday, said its co-owner, Sebastian Gorgone, who said he had been told of fistfights occurring on the line last Thursday evening. “As a matter of fact, the police called Saturday and said they want us to call them when we get fuel delivered. I have no problem with a police presence,” he said. “I’m not sending my people out with bulletproof vests.”