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After Sandy, 75 dead, millions without power, gas precious

HOBOKEN, N.J. -- The lack of electricity and severe gasoline shortages are hindering cleanup efforts throughout metropolitan New York and New Jersey as the hard-hit region continues to struggle in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy’s rampage through the Northeast.

The U.S. death toll from the storm rose to 75 overnight, including 12 dead in New Jersey and 30 in New York state. Of 22 reported deaths in New York City, 14 are from Staten Island, where surging waters powered by the storm trapped many in basements.

Electricity has been restored to as many as 4 million people, dropping the number of those who lost power from a high of 8.5 million to about 4.5 million. But about 2.5 million remain without power in metropolitan New York, especially on Long Island, where state officials rushed 1,900 utility workers to assist the local Long Island Power Authority.

PHOTOS: Super storm Sandy | Before and after the storm

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Gasoline was a precious commodity, especially in New Jersey, whose mass-transit systems remain shut, forcing hundreds of thousands of commuters to take to the road or stay home for yet another day. Long lines of cars waited to fill up at gasoline stations that managed to open, with motorists waiting hours to fill up, then grappling with clogged roads.

Many stations ran out of fuel, while others lacked electricity to operate their pumps.

This current version of an energy crisis -- reminiscent of the gasoline shortages of the 1970s -- played out across the state, including at a Lukoil station on U.S. Route 46 in Little Falls, N.J.

Cars were lined up on the highway for nearly two miles at 9 a.m. as sheriff’s deputies and police monitored the line, which crept forward at a glacial pace. About two dozen people lined up at another set of pumps carrying gas cans for fuel, destined for home generators or pumps to clean out flooded areas.

VIDEOS: East Coast hit by deadly storm

“It’s just hard finding a gas station that’s open,” Lameese Zaitoun, 38, an office manager from Woodland Park, waiting to fill a can.

Most of those waiting were doomed to be unsatisfied. By 10 a.m., an attendant began writing a large sign to place on the pumps. “No gas,” it read.

Station manager Muslum Tuncaslan, 43, said he got a delivery Wednesday night and sold out Thursday morning. He said he called about getting a new shipment, but couldn’t get through to ask for more. “I hope if not tonight, tomorrow morning,” he said.

For Theresa Lugo, 53, a medical receptionist from Woodland Park, the sign meant that she had wasted 40 minutes, and her frustration was clear. She had seen other stations along the way, but they were shuttered.

“The question everybody is asking is why are none of them open,” she said. Disappointed, she then left in search of another station and most likely another line.

New Jersey, both north and south, continued to try to cope on Thursday. National Guard troops brought more aid to Hoboken, where an estimated 20,000 people remained stranded in their homes and beleaguered officials continued to send out an SOS.

“Our city was overtaken by the Hudson River. It’s really historic and it has been devastating,” said Mayor Dawn Zimmer.

She said about half the city was flooded, including two electrical substations, the bus depot, wastewater treatment system, three of the city’s four fire stations and thousands of residents. Zimmer said she got a call from Obama administration officials on Wednesday, the same day that the president, accompanied by Gov. Chris Christie, toured devastated areas in the south of the state and promised federal help.

“We do need to be able to get our emergency vehicles out,” Zimmer said late Wednesday after helping a team of volunteers deliver meals and check on seniors in high-rise housing. “We’re trying to get around to everyone. We’re grateful for the Guard.”

Hoboken, across the river from Manhattan, is no stranger to flooding. Sitting several feet below sea level, it was the scene of major floods after Irene swept through last year. National Guard troops were called in then, but far more troops were needed after Sandy. The damage has been more severe this time and flood waters are just beginning to recede.

In the south, the cleanup of Atlantic City and the devastated barrier islands continued, but full restoration of the key tourist area was expected to be far off in the future. Atlantic City’s casinos remained closed.

“This is going to be a bit of a haul,” said Christie after his aerial survey with Obama. Christie, as a surrogate for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, has sharply attacked Obama’s leadership skills, but the two were in harmony Wednesday as they put aside politics and pledged to bring New Jersey back -- a process likely to involve substantial federal money.

Meanwhile, there were reports of 18 looting arrests in and around Atlantic City. Among the items stolen from homes were electrical generators.

The lack of electricity has hindered the restoration of the transportation system, including the return of mass transit. Rail service to Manhattan from the suburbs resumed on Wednesday.

Limited subway service, the real lifeblood of New York, partially returned on Thursday. And the price was right -- fares were zero to help get people off of the roads and back into their familiar commuting routine. Parts of the system remained closed by flooding from record surges of seawater.

Much of Lower Manhattan remained without electricity and it may be days before the substations are re-energized. The lack of electricity, particularly below 34th Street was also taking a toll on people seeking to resupply and shop for necessities like food without working refrigerators or elevators.

Transportation is at the heart of the city’s recovery. Officials hoped that even the limited return of subway service would ease traffic congestion and make the streets safer for pedestrians crossing at intersections without traffic lights.

But television reports Thursday showed a heavy backup of traffic entering Manhattan, and police were turning away vehicles that carried fewer than three passengers. Authorities had imposed the limit to force car pooling and decrease demand for gasoline.

Among positive developments, LaGuardia Airport reopened on Thursday, the last of New York’s major airports to resume operations. Schedules are still limited after almost 20,000 flights were canceled this week. Along with the airports, Broadway theaters reopened as did the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday.

There were also touching moments of the community spirit that often shows itself during a crisis, scenes similar to the days immediately after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Forced again to rely on their feet, masses of New Yorkers took solace from one other on Thursday as they walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to work.

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