(CHERRY HILL, N.J.) — Anna Sandler and and husband Michael started the Twitter handle @njgas earlier this year to alert fellow New Jersey residents to cheap gas they spotted in their travels. But after finding they were broadcasting to less than 50 people, the couple gave up.
Fast forward to this past Thursday when it was clear that the lack of power caused by Hurricane Sandy was contributing to a gas shortage in New York and New Jersey. That’s when the Sandlers noticed people started following their handle.
“We picked up, like, 500 followers,” Anna said. “People wanted to know about gas, but this time it was about where it was and the lines, not how cheap it was.”
It was their calling.
Since then, the two, who live in Maplewood but have been headquartered out of Michael’s parents house near Cherry Hill with their three kids since they lost power, have been taking turns manning the Twitter handle. They have helped clarify the New Jersey gas rationing rules, they have retweeted intelligence about lines at certain gas stations and they’ve warned those looking to fill up cans that gas stations might turn them away if they don’t bring a red canister.
As some in the state have panicked, scrambling around for gas stations with lights on before their tanks hit empty, the Sandlers have been an unexpected comfort to those inconvenienced by the effect of the storm.
“I think we’ve proven that you don’t have to go to Staten Island and other hard hit areas to help out,” Anna Sandler said. “We’re hoping to make a difference from the warmth of the home we’re in.”
In just a couple days, the @njgas handle has accumulated more than 6,000 followers, partly because Anna Sandler is good at what she does. She co-owns a social media firm called Sandler Wald that helps out small businesses in New Jersey.
The Sandlers quickly became experts at the science of finding gas and spreading the information. Stop at gas stations in-town instead of at highly trafficked rest stops. Be wary of information, especially supposed news of gas truck deliveries, many of which don’t pan out. And don’t be afraid to do what most never do, tip the attendants.
The Twitter handle quickly filled a niche.
Besides Hess, which tweeted out gas inventory volume at its locations every two hours, the big brands weren’t doing anything to help and clarification about the gas rationing rules in New Jersey wasn’t easy to find.
Anyone following @njgas realized that if they had an odd number license plate and gas was allowed that day for odd numbers, they had to make sure they got to the front of the line before the clock struck midnight.
“We tried to make sure that people knew the rules before they waited for hours in line,” Anna Sandler said. “A lot of people got on line and didn’t realize that they could only pay cash.”
The handle also served individual requests by retweeting people looking for help.
“I would follow the thread and sometimes you’d see 10 or 12 people help give that person some information,” she said.
After a tense weekend filled with hour-long or longer lines at gas stations across the state, more areas are having their power restored and the gas is becoming more plentiful.
It’s possible that there will be no need for @njgas by this Wednesday or Thursday.
Said Anna Sandler: “I’d be thrilled. I don’t have time to do this all day.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Paul R. La Monica, CNN
Parija Kavilanz, CNN
Jackie Wattles, CNN