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After 12-Hour Wait, Residents Turned Away When Nat'l Guard Runs Out of Gas

By Janet Upadhye | November 4, 2012 9:20am

CROWN HEIGHTS — Jhonn Puente needed a few gallons of gas to keep his generator running in Brownsville apartment. A tree fell on his building during Hurricane Sandy and he has been without electricity or heat for nearly a week.

Robert Michelin ran out of gas Saturday and pushed his car to Crown Heights from Prospect Heights hoping to get enough fuel to start his engine and get the car to a safe location.

Don Fox's tank was on empty and he needs to get to work on Sunday. His family depends on it.

All three waited twelve hours to receive gas from the National Guard at the Bedford-Union Armory in Crown Heights, only to be turned away at 11:30 p.m. when gas ran out.

"It's freezing out here," said Puente. "I can't feel my toes and after hours of waiting they just turn us away? This was completely mismanaged."

Gas was like liquid gold to the hundreds of Brooklynites who lined up Saturday afternoon to receive free fuel from the National Guard.

A line of shivering, bundled figures on foot snaked down Bedford Avenue while people waited for the the chance to fill up red plastic gas canisters, Kikkoman Soy Sauce buckets and water cooler tanks with gasoline.  Only the pregnant were allowed to jump out of line for food.

Daisy Vanderyard is seven months along, and was standing in the cold for seven hours before she was able to fill her bucket.

"My husband needs gas to get to work," she said.

Travis Howard is a second-year psychology student at an upstate university and needs to get back for classes that start back up on Monday. He hugged his high school sweetheart throughout a six-hour wait in the freezing line. 

"I came back to make sure she was okay after the storm," he said. "Now I'm stuck here without gas."

But Howard and Vanderyard were among the hundreds of lucky ones who were able to get gas. The reservists were met with grateful faces as they pumped fuel into empty tanks and buckets.

"Come out to visit Coney Island," Sean Shields yelled to the Guardsman who filled his tank. "I'll show you around and take you out to a hot meal."

But at 11:30 p.m., more than 12 hours after the free gas station opened, the National Guard ran out of gas. And with over 100 people still waiting, police were not met with understanding when they announced no more gas would be given out.

"People bum-rushed the front of the line at first," said Alonso PoCantor, a community affairs officer. "They were understandably distressed, but there is nothing we can do. When the gas is gone, it's gone."

After a few minutes of frustrated yelling, residents slowly began to leave the armory, limping away with empty canisters on frozen toes.

The car line was several blocks deep. Some ran out of gas while waiting to fuel up. Michelin pushed his gas-dry car to the curb with the help of some passersby.

"I can't push this car anymore," he said. "It'll just stay here, I have nothing left."