Is New York Running Out of Essentials?

PHOTO: PumpJason DeCrow/AP Photo
Caution tape surrounds the pumps of a closed gas station on Northern Boulevard in the Queens borough of New York, Nov. 1

As the city entered its third day of recovery from the devastating wrath of Superstorm Sandy, the impact of power outages and a lack of transportation have taken a toll, replacing the convenience of the 24-hour economy with a more limited existence, where items like food, gas, and clean laundry aren't a guarantee.

These problems won't last forever, but they will impact hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers in the days to come. Here are some of the biggest concerns:

1. Gas

Fuel, in particular, has grown scarce. With limited subway service, commuters are turning to cabs and driving their own cars.

"It's been a mess," said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. "Last night I know that people were feeling a lot of desperation."

Mayor Bloomberg has authorized cabs to pick up multiple passengers and mandated that commuters carry three passengers when entering the city, but gas stations across the five boroughs haven't been able to keep up with demand. In addition, some stations still don't have power, which means they can't pump gas.

Bloomberg addressed the issue at a press conference today, saying that the city was working to have federal regulations lifted that would allow certain fuel-carrying ships to dock in city harbors. More importantly, traffic would ease as the subway regained capacity, he said. "So it's one of these problems we're just going to have to live through," he said. "I think by Monday most of it will have gone away."

2. Food

As of 11 a.m. today, an estimated 650,000 Con Edison customers were still without power, with 228,000 of those in Lower Manhattan. Residents in those areas have been relying on food distribution centers, dwindling groceries, food trucks and the kindness of friends and family in other neighborhoods.

In other parts of the city, people have found long waits or limited menus at restaurants, but for the most part, business seems to be brisk.

One of the city's most notable restaurateurs, Danny Meyer, opened several restaurants yesterday for the first time since the storm hit, including the Shake Shack in Battery Park City. The main delay in opening after Sandy was finding safe transportation for staff.

"In terms of the crew, we are still working with those who can get into work," said Gee Won Park, the director of communications for Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group. "Are we up to 100 percent? No."

According to Park, food supplies aren't a problem. "Vendors started rolling yesterday," she said.

3. Money

Without power, ATMs can't operate. Residents in those areas need to go to other neighborhoods to get cash -- an increasingly important method of payment when dealing with street vendors or cab drivers with non-functioning credit card machines.

Delayed paychecks and lost revenues are an even bigger problem. One in five New Yorkers live below the poverty line, and many more paycheck to paycheck. With the first of the month here, many New Yorkers are struggling to make rent.

4. Clean Clothes

Less worrisome but still demoralizing is the lack of clean clothes afflicting those in powerless areas.

Marissa Webb, president of her own fashion company, tweeted about going days without power: "u realize how much simple things in life mean once taken away. will no longer take heat, clean clothes, water 4 granted."

Stephanie Coutrix, a 27 year old who works in communications, lost power at her apartment in the Manhattan neighborhood of Murray Hill. But she is able to use the laundry facilities at a friend's apartment, where she's staying.

"Most people have probably enough underwear to last them a good week," she said. "If this continues people will start looking for laundry uptown."

In general, good friends seem to be the best remedy for the more temporary hardships wrought by the storm.

Sam Fine, co-founder of Receipt One, a receipt tracking service, made an offer to friends over Twitter: "Any guy friends of mine in nyc that need some clean dress clothes for work you can give me a shout. 38r and 40r suits for reference."