Matt Campbell / EPA
A dangerous winter storm churned Friday into the Northeast as forecasters warned of a whiteout.
NEW YORK — As millions of Americans braced for a winter storm bearing down on the Northeast on Friday, people still recovering from Hurricane Sandy stood in line at gas stations to buy fuel and stocked up on wood for the fireplace. It was, one man lamented, "like a nightmare of Sandy all over."
Sandy left about 20,000 residential buildings in the city with some damage or disruption to their utilities. Thousands are struggling to rebuild, with many sheltering in their battered homes.
The incoming storm is just the latest round in an unforgiving winter. A snowstorm hit New York City one week after Sandy struck and in late January, temperatures plummeted below zero. This time, forecasters are predicting up to 15 inches of snow, as well as high tides and winds.
Scott McGrath said people were in a "panic mode" in his Staten Island neighborhood, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy. He stood in line at a gas station Thursday night, hoping to get fuel for his generator to power his home in the case of an outage, but he walked away empty-handed. On Friday, people lined up again.
"It's like a nightmare of Sandy all over," he said, noting the constant weather alerts warning of snow and high tides. "This time our house is not ... in full shape, you know, who knows if (it) would withstand it."
For those sheltering in place like McGrath, 45, and his wife, Dee, the ever-changing weather makes recovery from Sandy a stop-start process. They have scuttled plans to put up sheet rock this weekend in their gutted two-story home — where they still have holes in the walls on the first floor. They’re also fearful that the few remaining personal items they have, which they had put in the basement, could be in danger due to the threat of high tides.
"We're ... sitting on the edge and just praying for the best," he said. "If this storm hits, we're screwed. That's the bottom line. If it really does hit us like they're saying, and that high tide comes in, only God knows what's going to happen to us."
A mix of snow and rain was falling in the city by 7 a.m.
NBCNewYork.com reported lines of up to 40 cars at some gas stations. The city had 250,000 tons of salt at the ready for the roads.
"This is a very serious storm, and we should treat it that way," said Tom Prendergast, president of the agency that runs New York subways and buses.
As residents scrambled to prepare in the event of a power outage, some gas stations in New York and New Jersey have already run out of gas. NBC's Brian Williams reports.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned people to stay in and to use public transportation if they had to go out, although even that carried the possibility of disruptions.
That was the plan for Tom Dillon, 46, who has almost completed repairing the flood damage on his two-story home in Breezy Point, a coastal enclave in the city that was hard hit by Sandy.
Dillon got his son out of school and stocked up on wood, kindling and blankets, plus bought five gallons of gas for his generator. He has also pulled out the snow shovels and has a kerosene heater at the ready.
John Makely/NBC News
Tom Dillon makes coffee in his flood-damaged home in Breezy Point, N.Y., on Nov. 18, 2012.
"We ain’t taking no chances this time. … I got everything ready," he chuckled. "I want to get the generator on and I want to make sure everything's rocking and rolling. That's what I’m doing today, making sure everything's ready for this storm."
He is concerned about coastal flooding posing one more worry for the community, where extreme high tides were typical in Nor'easters, he said. In the first weeks after Sandy, residents in the low-lying area were constantly pumping out their basements.
"Every time we have coastal flooding, it's just a nightmare in this area because we're so low that … your basements get flooded again,” he said. "Anybody who has a basement’s going to get flooded, and you know, they’ll be pumping out again."
Despite all of his preparations and laughing about the incoming storm, Dillon sounded an exasperated note.
"I am wondering if Mother Nature is just mad at us or something," he said, before going to help a neighbor insulate his pipes to help protect against freezing. "Twelve to 18 inches of snow, oh, I don't know if I'm ready for this, really I'm not."