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Tempers fray as many in U.S. Northeast still without power

MYT 4:05:01 AM

(Reuters) - Frustration with continuing power outages, travel chaos, and long lines for gasoline grew on Saturday as residents of New York's Long Island, hit hard by Superstorm Sandy, protested outside the headquarters of the local utility company.

Residents took to the streets for a second day, targeting the Long Island Power Authority in Hicksville. There were still over a quarter of a million customers without power nearly two weeks after the storm. As of Friday more than 170,000 of those were on Long Island.

Thousands were in temporary shelters, and in New Jersey a tent city on the edge of Monmouth Park racetrack was home to hundreds. Authorities in the region said they did not have access to enough alternative housing or hotel rooms for all those who have been displaced.

New Yorkers also faced their second day of gasoline rationing under a system, which was introduced in New Jersey last week, in which cars with odd- and even-numbered license plates can fill up only on alternate days.

Electric utilities have drawn withering criticism for being slow to restore power throughout the region. For many, no electricity means no heat, hot water or hot meals.

"It's been terrible," said Diane Uhlfelder, a former New York City police officer at the protest in Hicksville, where a local police officer estimated about 300 hundred gathered outside LIPA headquarters.

"The kids have been out of school for more than a week, all the food is totally ruined, it's expensive eating out every day, so most of the time it's McDonald's, but the cold is the worst. It's been hell."

Sandy smashed into the East Coast on October 29, killing at least 120 people and causing an estimated $50 billion in damage or economic losses. It destroyed homes along the New Jersey Shore and around New York City, cut off electricity for millions of people and knocked out much of the public transportation system.

Newly re-elected President Barack Obama is to visit hard-hit areas of New York City on Thursday. Obama put off an earlier visit at the request of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who feared it could hinder relief efforts.

FREE FUEL

Early on Saturday in Far Rockaway, a coastal area of New York City devastated by the storm surge, more than 500 people lined up with empty fuel cans. Word had spread Friday night that a tanker truck carrying 8,000 gallons of free gasoline was to arrive around 10 a.m.

The fuel was delivered under the auspices of the Fuel Relief Fund and apparently funded by an anonymous donor.

"The guy didn't want his name used, but he wanted to get gas to these people," said a New York Police Department captain, who declined to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media. "Pretty decent thing to do," he said. "These people need it bad."

More than a quarter of gas stations in the New York metropolitan area did not have fuel available for sale on Friday, the same number as on Thursday, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said.

But there were signs that fuel lines were starting to abate. At gas station in Hempstead, Long Island, IT systems engineer Tahiti Khan, 29, was thrilled to pull to the back of a line of only a dozen cars.

"I can't believe this - it's great! I'm from Queens Village where the gas lines are two hours, so I thought I'd try Nassau County. It took ten minutes to get gas."

COMMUTER MISERY

Millions still face difficult commutes, with large crowds waiting for trains running on reduced service after transport networks sustained major damage.

Subway services to coastal areas were slowly being restored. Service to Coney Island resumed on Friday, but there was still no service to Far Rockaway. Widespread delays were reported on New Jersey commuter trains.

In New York's Broad Channel community, there was a boat in the middle of a road with a sign that read: "Broad Channel - the forgotten town."

On Saturday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo extended the deadline to February for New Yorkers who lost their income due to the storm to apply for federal assistance

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who toured the Jersey Shore on Friday, said many popular vacation spots will not be fully rebuilt by next summer.

"This is our Katrina," he declared, referring to the hurricane that washed out New Orleans in 2005.

Homeowners were able to return to an 18-mile (30-km) barrier island off New Jersey's Atlantic coast on Saturday, giving some of them their first view of the devastation wrought by Sandy.

Long Beach Island, an enclave of mostly affluent vacation homes, took a direct hit, with some homes washed full of sand and seawater and others destroyed.

The island, with about 10,000 year-round residents and perhaps 10 times that number in the summer, has been closed to residents except for brief visits to retrieve belongings.

There were 289,239 customers without power on Saturday in the states struck by Sandy, a drop of 144,901 from Friday, the U.S. Energy Department said. At the peak 8.5 million were without power.

(Additional reporting by Chris Francescani and Lauren T. LaCapra; Editing by Jackie Frank and Vicki Allen)

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