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Anger grows over fuel shortage in storm-hit Northeast

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Ovid Thompson (L) fills gasoline cans at a gas station for Bill Poland so he can fuel his car and generator in Neptune, New Jersey, November 2, 2012 in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Credit: REUTERS/Tom Mihalek
Ovid Thompson (L) fills gasoline cans at a gas station for Bill Poland so he can fuel his car and generator in Neptune, New Jersey, November 2, 2012 in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Credit: REUTERS/Tom Mihalek

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Frustration grew on Friday for residents of Northeast states hit by superstorm Sandy as the death toll reached 102, millions were still without power and tempers frayed at a lack of fuel and guidance on when life might return to normal.

New York City canceled its annual marathon in the face of rising criticism of a previous decision to go ahead with the race on Sunday as the search for bodies continued in devastated communities from New York's Staten Island to New Jersey seaside towns.

Sandy, which brought a record storm surge to coastal areas, slammed into the U.S. Northeast on Monday. Forty-one died in New York City, about half of them in Staten Island, which was overrun by a wall of water.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he had spoken to the father of two boys, aged 2 and 4, who were swept from their mother's arms as she tried to escape rising waters on Staten Island. Their father is a sanitation worker and was helping the city respond to the storm when it happened, Bloomberg said.

"It just breaks your heart to even think about it," Bloomberg said on Friday. "While life in much of our city is getting back to normal, for New Yorkers that have lost loved ones, the storm left a wound that I think will never heal."

Sandy started as a late-season hurricane in the Caribbean, where it killed 69 people before smashing ashore in the United States with 80-mile-per-hour (130-kph) winds. It stretched from the Carolinas to Connecticut and was the largest storm by area to hit the United States in decades.

In Brooklyn's Coney Island, home to a large Russian immigrant community, Anna Ladd's basement still held sea water and she was without power and gas. Ladd, 62, has applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help but was wary of what aid, if any, she would receive.

"We have a saying in Russia - when someone promises something, you have to wait three more years until they deliver," she said.

'IT'S A CATASTROPHE'

Acute gasoline shortages led to long lines and short tempers. Tankers were entering New York Harbor again and a tanker carrying 2 million barrels of gasoline arrived at 2 a.m. on Friday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

Starting before dawn on Friday, long lines of cars snaked around gasoline stations in the area, in scenes reminiscent of the energy shortage of the 1970s.

"It's a catastrophe," said Anthony Ennab, a 21-year-old student, as he waited in line at a Staten Island gas station with a container. "If I had an emergency, I would have no gas."

Police were in place at many spots to keep the peace between furious, frustrated drivers. In one instance, a man who attempted to cut in line was charged with threatening another driver with a gun on Thursday in the borough of Queens.

But Fernando Costa, 66, who has driven a yellow New York City taxi for 40 years, just shrugged his shoulders at the fuss.

"What can I do?" said Costa, who had been waiting in a line at a Manhattan gas station for several hours. "Eventually the city will recover. This is not the first crisis - the September 11 attack, blackouts, snowstorms. You get used to it."

Less than 40 percent of all gas stations in New York City, Long Island and New Jersey operated on Thursday because of a combination of power outages and constricted supplies after the storm devastated the energy industry's ability to move fuel into and around the New York City region.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Federal Emergency Management Agency Deputy Administrator Richard Serino visited Staten Island on Friday amid angry claims by some residents that the borough had been ignored.

"A lot of people are hurting and we want to work through the next days and hours to get people on their feet as quickly as possible," Napolitano told reporters.

President Barack Obama, locked in a tight race with Republican rival Mitt Romney, has so far received praise for his handling of storm relief. But scenes of angry victims could affect the political campaign with Election Day four days away.

More than 3.5 million homes and businesses along the East Coast remained without power on Friday.

'FORGOTTEN PEOPLE'

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg canceled the marathon, which was expected to draw more than 40,000 runners, after mounting criticism from residents who said the city should be focused on recovery efforts.

Michael Cremer, 45, a benefits consultant, said the marathon had become a "symbol of insensitivity" to Staten Island.

"Staten Islanders feel like the forgotten people," Cremer said before the cancellation was announced. "The thing about the marathon is just mind-boggling and people here are just extremely angry ... The insensitivity of Mayor Bloomberg is just unbelievable. We're one of the five boroughs. We're not a little town in upstate New York."

However, Frankie Abraham Kibret, 39, from Jersey City, said the marathon should go ahead. "You don't give up, that's New York," he said from behind the counter of his family's blacked-out deli in Manhattan's West Village.

Rising seawater flooded lower Manhattan, much of which still lacked power and subway service on Friday, while midtown and uptown Manhattan were close to normal. Power was expected to be returned throughout Manhattan by Saturday but it could be a week or more in suburbs and more distant towns along the coast.

Cuomo directed the New York National Guard to deploy an additional 600 troops to help restore the grid in Westchester and Rockland counties, suburbs north of New York City.

Forecasts for colder temperatures only added to the tension, since many in New Jersey and elsewhere have been using generators to run lights and heaters while waiting for utilities to repair downed power lines.

Disaster modeling company Eqecat estimated Sandy caused up to $20 billion in insured losses and $50 billion in economic losses, double its previous forecast. New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli estimated economic losses of $15 billion to $18 billion in New York state alone.

At the high end of the range, Sandy would rank as the fourth costliest U.S. catastrophe, according to the Insurance Information Institute, behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the September 11, 2001, attacks and Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus throughout the U.S. Northeast; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Michelle Nichols; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Jim Loney)

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