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Lines grow, tempers flare at pumps as gas shortage grows after Sandy

With limited mass transit, more folks are forced to use cars, and that, combined with a gas shortage, is creating gas station lines extending for miles all over New York and New Jersey. NBC's Tom Costello reports.

Updated at 7:55 a.m. ET: Motorists in New York and New Jersey exchanged words – and reportedly even shoves and punches – as they faced a second day of stressful, sometimes miles-long lines Thursday at the gas stations that still had both electricity and supplies after superstorm Sandy.

Power outages kept many pumps out of service and tough travel made fuel deliveries difficult.

A police officer directed traffic at a Gulf station in Newark, N.J., as a line of vehicles stretched for about two miles. Dozens of people with empty red gas canisters also stood in the line that snaked around the station.

NBC's Kerry Sanders reports from a helicopter high above Bloomfield, N.J., where drivers are lined up for miles waiting for a chance to fill up.

Betty Bethea, 59, had been waiting almost three hours as she approached the front of the line of cars, and she brought reinforcements: Her kids were there with gas cans, and her husband was behind her in his truck. 

"It is crazy out here — people scrambling everywhere, cutting in front of people. I have never seen New Jersey like this," Bethea said.

Police in New Jersey said they broke up fights at gas stations all day Wednesday, according to the Wayne Patch

"Everyone's panicking because all their gas tanks are on 'E,'" one officer was quoted as saying.

Numerous reports of confrontation at the stations that were still open surfaced on Twitter and YouTube.

Justin Lane / EPA

A man waits in line on 10th Avenue to get gasoline for his taxi at a gas station on Thursday as New York City tries to recover from the effects of Sandy.

A fistfight broke out Wednesday between customers at the Getty station on Route 59 in Monsey, N.J., the only functioning station in the area, Chiam Tzik, the station's manager, told Newsday. On Thursday morning, traffic stretched for at least half a mile on both sides of the road.

In New York state, Yonkers Mayor Michael Spano signed an executive order rationing gas to 10 gallons per customer effective immediately.

Related: Northeast may see long gas lines for a week

New York taxi and car service companies started pulling vehicles off the road as service stations are now out of gasoline or power to run pumps.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy authorized the Metropolitan Transit Authority to waive fares Thursday and Friday as an inducement to get people to take mass transit instead of driving.

In another move to reduce congestion, New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission announced Thursday that HOV restrictions on bridges have been lifted for liveries, “black cars” and taxis.

NBC's Kerry Sanders reports from Yonkers, N.Y,, where an aerial view of the New York City region shows a traffic nightmare as officials set up checkpoints to make sure every vehicle has at least three passengers before they are allowed into the city.

Taxi drivers are accepting normal metered fares but are also permitted to accept additional passengers during a trip, according to The Wall Street Journal. The Taxi and Limousine Commission suggests $10 per additional passenger, but it’s up to drivers and passengers to negotiate the final amount, the Journal reported.

For millions of Americans, Thursday morning marks day three of no electricity, and many will be without power for days to come. NBC's Harry Smith investigates why Sandy is the third storm in only a year to cripple the Northeast power system and whether it's simply part of a new normal.

Zipcar Inc, a car-sharing company that rents out vehicles at an hourly or daily rate, said members late in returning cars in New York because of traffic or fuel shortages would not face the usual charges.

"Any members who are willing to wait in line for fuel, we're willing to waive any late fees," said Dan Curtin, Zipcar's vice president of fleet operations in Boston. The firm is offering members in New York and New Jersey discounts until Friday.

At the heart of the fuel supply crunch is the fact that Sandy has devastated the energy industry's ability to move fuel into and around the New York City region, particularly the harbor, by any of the three means that normally supply the area: tanker imports from abroad; pipeline shipments from the U.S. Gulf Coast; or refinery production from the mid-New Jersey area. 

The good news is none of these issues appears to be long-lasting. Power is gradually being restored in New Jersey, where much of the key infrastructure is located and New York Harbor barge traffic is expected to resume later Thursday. A key pipeline should resume limited deliveries on Friday. Even flooded refineries should eventually resume production.

The bad news is that the supply crunch may get worse before it gets better. Supplies at gas stations that remained open are running out, and it may be several more days before wholesale fuel supplies get where they need to go. Public Service Enterprise Group Inc, the biggest utility in New Jersey, said it may be up to 10 days to fully restore power. Oil tank trucks are driving three hours to Delaware City to get fuel, but they can only carry up to 9,000 gallons each.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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