by Kevin McCoy, USA TODAY
NEW YORK - Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Coast Guard on Friday said that barges carrying millions of gallons of fuel have surged into New York Harbor and made it to terminals on Long Island and Newburgh on the Hudson River in a major step to alleviate the gas shortage that has crippled the city and surrounding region.
Rear Adm. Daniel Abel said the Coast Guard and other emergency officials are investigating the feasibility of using hoses to let fuel barges immediately fill tanker trucks headed to gas stations around the region.
"It should get better, and it should get better quickly," Cuomo said of any gas shortages.
"People can't get gas," he said. "It has increased the stress level all across the region."
Cuomo said Sandy blew containers off of ships into New York harbor and the Coast Guard needed to clear the harbor for passage before letting in ships. Many of these tankers and barges were carrying fuel.
"A barge carrying 2 million gallons got to Newburgh (in Orange County) at 2 o'clock in the morning, and there are various stories like that where millions of gallons of gasoline are now through the harbor and going into the distribution network," Cuomo said.
Separately, Cuomo announced an agreement with state legislative leaders on creating a $100 million state fund to help homeowners victimized by the storm pay for home repairs and reconstruction. The fund will supplement rebuilding money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"That will get us up and running, and we can being the reconstruction forthwith," Cuomo said of plans for the new state fund.
The Staten Island Ferry resumed service at noon on Friday, five days after being suspended as Sandy approached the New York City area.
The region hit by Superstorm Sandy was a patchwork of returning normality and despair Friday as bodies of the more than 90 dead across several U.S. states continued to be found but more communities were getting power back and other basic needs. The total U.S. damage from the storm could run as high as $50 billion.
The New York City death toll from the storm rose to 41, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday afternoon. Emergency personnel believe they have checked all locations around the five boroughs at least once, but the number of fatalities could continue to rise slightly, he said.
The bodies of two young boys who had been torn from their mother's arms in the storm surge were recovered from a marsh in New York City's Staten Island, where at least 19 people were killed and some garbage-piled streets remained flooded.
James Molinaro, the borough's president, said the American Red Cross "is nowhere to be found."
The island is the starting point of the New York City's Marathon, the world's largest, which the city has declared would start from Staten Island as usual on Sunday and finish in Central Park. The race attracts more than 40,000 participants, with about 20,000 of them from overseas.
The decision by Bloomberg to have the race has caused controversy throughout the city.
James Brennan, a Rockaway Beach native whose relatives lost their homes to the devastating storm, said he always had immense respect for Bloomberg as a businessman and government leader. Until the decision to stage this year's marathon.
"I think this is the biggest mistake he's made, not only in his mayoral career, but in his entire life," said Brennan, a California entrepreneur who said he has raised roughly $500,000 to fund relief and recovery efforts in his boyhood neighborhood and devastated Breezy Point.
"I understand the importance of showing that New York City is back up and running, but this is flat wrong," he said Friday, a day after flying to New York City and bringing relief supplies to the devastated Rockaway oceanfront area. "These people are soaking wet, freezing, no homes, and the city's holding a marathon. That's just wrong."
Cuomo sidestepped the topic at a news conference Friday.
"I think that is a decision best left to the local officials," he said. "There is a debate, and I understand both sides."
Across the New York and New Jersey region at the heart of the natural disaster, the vast transport systems lurched to life, but tempers were short in long lines for gas. In New York, a man was accused of pulling a gun Thursday on a motorist who complained when he cut in line at a gas station; no one was injured.
On Friday morning, dozens of vehicles lined up at gas stations early in Westchester. By 6 a.m., at least 20 cars snaked along the breakdown lane of the northbound State Thruway for gas at a rest stop near Stew Leonard's in Yonkers.
On the southbound Thruway, near Yonkers Raceway, about 30 cars lined up on the exit lane for a gas station. The vehicles spilled over to the highway, partially blocking traffic coming off the busy thoroughfare. A Lukoil on Central Park Avenue in Yonkers drew a long line, but the station ran out of gas about 9 a.m.
Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano issued an executive order Thursday afternoon rationing gasoline to 10 gallons per customer. He blamed a "huge influx" of drivers from New York City and New Jersey for helping overwhelm local service stations and said at least 10 were out of fuel by 3 p.m.
In Brooklyn, one line for gas snaked at least 10 blocks through narrow and busy streets. Some commuters accidentally found themselves in the line, and people got out of their cars to yell at them.
Cabdriver Harum Prince was in a Manhattan gas line 17 blocks long. "I don't blame anybody," he said. "God, he knows why he brought this storm."
More subway and rail lines were expected to open Friday, including Amtrak's New York to Boston route on the Northeast Corridor.
Most New York City public schools will reopen Monday, Bloomberg said. Only about 40 of the roughly 2,000 schools will remain closed, because they are still being used as storm evacuation centers, he said.
Bloomberg said work will begin Saturday on securing the broken construction crane mast that's dangled high over W. 57th St. in Manhattan since the storm. Neighborhood residents who have been evacuated from the area should be able to return by Monday night.
More than 3.8 million homes and businesses in the East were still without power, down from a peak of 8.5 million.
Officials said power would return over the weekend to downtown Manhattan, where community groups began an effort to go door-to-door to check on the elderly and others who may not have been able to leave their homes for a fourth day because of pitch-black hallways and many flights of stairs.
"It's too much. You're in your house. You're freezing," said Geraldine Giordano, 82, a life-long resident. Near her home, city employees had set up a sink where residents could get fresh water, if they needed it. There were few takers. "Nobody wants to drink that water," Giordano said.
Along the devastated Jersey Shore, residents were allowed back in their neighborhoods Thursday for the first time since Superstorm Sandy made landfall Monday night. Many homes were wiped out. "A lot of tears are being shed today," said Dennis Cucci, whose home near the ocean in Point Pleasant Beach sustained heavy damage. "It's absolutely mind-boggling."
After touring a flood-ravaged area of northeastern New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie said it was time to act, not mourn. On Friday, he said Atlantic City's 12 casinos can reopen immediately. The casinos were ordered closed Sunday.
But in Staten Island, basic recovery continued. Police recounted one mother's fruitless struggle to save her children.
New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said 39-year-old Glenda Moore "was totally, completely distraught" after her SUV stalled in the rising tide and she lost her grip on her sons as they tried to escape. In a panic, she climbed fences and went door-to-door looking in vain for help in a neighborhood that was presumably largely abandoned in the face of the storm.
She eventually gave up, spending the night trying to shield herself from the storm on the front porch of an empty home.
"Terrible, absolutely terrible," Kelly said.
Contributing: Jessica Bakeman, Gannett Albany (N.Y.) Bureau; Carolyn Pesce; The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News; the Associated Press