Panic at the Pumps Before Nemo: Why a Blizzard is Conjuring Dark Memories of a Hurricane

Fear of a repeat of Superstorm Sandy is driving many New Yorkers to the gas pumps

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Jessica Hill / AP

Jose Echevarria delivers gas to a station that was completely out in Ellington, Conn. on Feb. 8, 2013. Many stations in the area are out due to a pending storm poised to dump up to 3 feet of snow from New York City to Boston and beyond beginning Friday.

Nemo who? Sandy is the word on everyone’s lips right now. As Winter Storm Nemo approaches, residents of the New York City area are remembering the last bad storm to strike their homes — and are taking no chances. Nemo is following much the same trajectory that Hurricane Sandy took, and is now poised to strike the Eastern seaboard Friday evening after sweeping in from the Atlantic.

Three months ago today, Maplewood, N.J. mother Alexis Gubbay was still waiting for her power to come back on after Superstorm Sandy ripped through the area, downing trees and power lines. Before that storm, she had stocked up on gas and plenty of extra food, and this morning, she was out doing the same routine. With two kids under the age of ten, it’s essential for Gubbay to have reserves of food – her power was out for ten days after Sandy. Even though it’s snow and ice this time around, the idea of preparedness is much the same.

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“Sandy threw everybody into a tizzy,” Gubbay admitted. “It really messed a lot of things up.” Such things as electricity to power gas pumps, and a crippled supply chain that hampered refueling of stations.

It’s these memories of the post-Sandy chaos that has led so many residents in the region to rush out to prepare for Nemo: “People get nervous,” Gubbay says, “They think, ‘Oh, I need another loaf of bread, I only have half a tank of gas, and last time…’” she trails off. Already Thursday night, lines for gas stretched at least a quarter-mile down the Long Island Expressway just east of New York City; Friday morning, much the same scene was repeated across New Jersey, just as flakes started to fall.

In anticipation of being snowed in, people rushed to fill up gas tanks, for both cars and generators. Ryan Ames from Maplewood set out early Friday to stockpile fuel for his generator. Ames, the father of two young children, said he was trying to avoid a repeat of Superstorm Sandy, when he endured a grueling three-hour line for gas.

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But New York mayor Michael Bloomberg was quick to assuage fears, highlighting the differences between November and February. “There’s no need to panic buying gas,” Bloomberg said in a press conference Friday afternoon. “Supply is plentiful and deliveries will not be interrupted.”

The sudden spike in gas sales was surely sparked in part by emergency preparedness organizations. FEMA issued a tweet this morning encouraging all drivers to fill their tanks in advance of the storm. A full tank of gas prevents your car’s gas lines from freezing, and ensures that motorists can make it to the hospital in the event of an emergency.

What isn’t clear is where all these people with full tanks of gas will be driving if the storm does indeed dump the predicted six to 12 inches on the New York area. “You can get prepared, and then you just have to wait, and deal with whatever as it comes,” says Gubbay, a native of Ottawa, and a tested blizzard veteran.

Easier said than done, when memories of Sandy are so fresh.

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