(NEW YORK) — The Northeast struggled to get back on its feet Thursday following the wallop it took from Sandy. But the region was hampered by miles-long lines at the few gas stations that had power, an overwhelmed mass transit system and massive power outages.
Throughout New Jersey, the hardest hit state, motorists roamed for hours looking for a gas station that had power and gasoline. And when a station was located, the line to the pump lasted up to two hours.
Those with gas who had to commute into New York City Thursday encountered a major traffic jam at the Lincoln Tunnel, one of only two entrances to the city from New Jersey that hadn’t been closed down because of damage from Sandy.
Tens of thousands of motorists tried to beat New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s edict that after 6 a.m. cars must have three people in them or be turned away, creating a pre-dawn line for the tunnel that was backed up for more than a mile.
Even travel within the city was gridlocked as the mayor’s three-passenger rule extended to bridges into Manhattan, making a trip from Brooklyn or Queens into the heart of the city last several hours.
The first limited bus and train service in the suburbs came to life Thursday, but many of the buses were quickly filled to capacity, creating enormous lines to get on them, and forcing drivers to skip stops and roll past hordes of waiting passengers.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recognized the seriousness of the transportation gridlock.
“I am declaring a transportation state of emergency and authorizing the MTA [Metropolitan Transportation Authority] to waive fares on rails, subways through the end of the week, Thursday and Friday,” the governor said.
New York City buses serve 2.3 million people on an average day, and two days after the storm, they were trying to handle many of the 5.5 million daily subway riders, too.
“We are going to need some patience and some tolerance,” Cuomo said. Nevertheless, Cuomo assured New Yorkers, “The worst is behind us.”
The storm, which struck Monday, has been blamed for dozens of deaths and put more than eight million people in the dark.
Power outages now stand at more than six million homes, with outages as far west as Wisconsin in the Midwest and as far south as the Carolinas.
New York’s LaGuardia Airport reopened on Thursday — the last of the region’s major airports to resume air service. But schools remain shut throughout the region.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Chuck Johnston, CNN Newswire