Word spread early Saturday morning that an impromptu refueling station would be staged in Central Brooklyn to help desperate drivers and commuters. However, frustrations arose when authorities stopped refueling civilians to prioritize needs of first responders.
After two fuel trucks, led by police escort and protected by military command, parked at the corner of Bedford Avenue and Union Street in front of the Crown Heights community's armory facility, long lines swelled with hundreds of cars and also people on foot with gas canisters.
The free gas was made possible by FEMA causing people in the crowd to laugh as a few chanted, “Obama gas! Obama gas!”
Responding to a tweet
A member of the U.S. Army's 69th Infantry was personally pumping the gas into the cars and containers that the police officers directed his way. With his name Santos embroidered on his uniform, he said the truck's tank carried in roughly 8,500 gallons of gas which would be enough gas to give 850 cars 10 gallons each.
The crowd gathered following a 9:07 a.m. “ target=”_blank”>announcement by Borough President Marty Markowitz via Twitter: “Gov. Cuomo will be sending a fuel truck to Brooklyn Armory, 1579 Bedford Ave. There will be 10 gallon limit, you fill up right off the truck.”
There were other free distribution sites throughout the city. (Click here for a map>)
”We've lost control”
Although the lines initially moved quickly, serving multiple cars and the first two dozen or so people with canisters, the process slowed considerably when plans switched to meet needs of emergency teams.
Authorities had been allowing two or three people beyond the police tape about every four or five minutes, but then that pace slowed to more than ten minutes. Some people claimed that they waited at that location for more than four hours.
Fire Department personnel arrived looking for fuel as well as nurses from a nearby hospital hoping to fuel their van.
Yet very few emergency personnel were on hand at the location while hundreds of civilians were made to wait in dropping temperatures.
At times people were orderly and cooperative, at other moments things became unruly as some people argued over rightful positions in the lines.
At one point, officers physically removed a group of argumentative women who others in the front of the line claimed had jumped in unfairly.
After officers quelled the commotion, the NYPD's commanding officer on site, Commander Lewis, insisted that reporters move clear away from the crowd until instructed, admitting, “We've lost control of the situation.”
A woman named Denise Lewis was frustrated because she waited for an hour then was turned away with her canister before officials apparently reversed their decision.
“They said they weren’t given out to canisters, they were giving out to cars.” Lewis, was on the opposite corner once a new line designated for canisters formed with about 400 people. “That guy better figure out how to fill up my tank. They didn’t say it was cars, they said it was free gas.”
Stacey Morris of Brooklyn said she'd been waiting three and a half hours in her sedan. “I was waiting on a gas station line on Eastern Parkway and cops just came and told us (about the free gas).”