By Charisse Jones, USA TODAY
MONTCLAIR, N.J. -- For many in New Jersey in search of gasoline, the mantra has become sit, wait and hope.
Beginning noon Saturday, that exercise in patience will become even more confounding and complicated. Gov. Chris Christie late Friday ordered gas rationing in 12 counties, declaring that the current shortage could endanger public health, safety and welfare.
The affected counties are Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Morris, Monmouth, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union and Warren.
Motorists in these counties whose license plates end in even numbers can fill up only on even-numbered days. Odd-numbered plates -- which includes those not ending in number -- can fill up only on odd days.
The "state of energy emergency" order states that stations "will be required to only sell motor fuel for use in a passenger automobile bearing license plates." That indicates dealers could refuse to sell to pedestrians seeking to fill containers.
Christie and Attorney General Jeff Chiesa pledged to "aggressively and vigorously enforce" the order, and the governor warned that violators "will be prosecuted to the fullest extent permitted."
The rationing will stay in effect until he declares the emergency over.
Across North Jersey on Friday, some stations had gas, but no power to get it from underground and through the pump. Cones blocked access. Police stood guard.
But still people bundled themselves in coats and lined up in the cold, waiting for gas to fill their home generators. And motorists lined up and park. The line at one station was so long on Thursday night, it backed up onto the off ramp of the 280 freeway in West Orange.
Four days after Hurricane Sandy, people said they have little choice.
"I'll push my car if I have to,'' said Anthony Rix, whose car, its gas gage on 'E,' sat sixth in line at a gas station that had no power. "I work for the Board of Ed, and it's closed. So I don't have anything else to do and I'm close to home. So I'll just sit and wait."
Rix had arrived at the Delta gas station on the border of Montclair and West Orange about 8:30 a.m. Friday. He'd also come by two or three times the day before, hoping that the power would be on and the gas flowing. It wasn't then. And it wasn't now.
The whole scenario was becoming hard to believe. "You're not used to this,'' he said. "We have snow storms but everything is still normal. . . People are not used to this, and we're not prepared."
His sister had picked up free water and ice that was being handed out by a local utility. The family was also making frequent trips to the supermarket, buying groceries day by day since their power had been out all week and there was no way to keep food cold.
"You think about pictures of Katrina, and people waiting in line for ice and water,'' Rix said. "You wouldn't think it would happen here.''
Bennie Osborne was also just about out of gas. He lives near the station and parked his car there over night.
"My car is low,'' he said about his gas tank. "I'm scared to go anywhere. I left my car up here all night with the keys, so they could put gas in it'' if power was restored.
Osborne also had other problems. His wife, Lucille, is a diabetic. They haven't had power since Monday night and have heard the electricity might not come back on until next Thursday.
In the meantime, they're keeping her insulin in a cooler. They're turning on their gas stove for heat during the day. And at night, to keep warm, "we just get in the bed.''
Osborne said the situation was bringing back long ago memories -- of the 1970s when gas was rationed and of when he was a boy growing up in Virginia.
"I told my grandkids this was the way it was down south,'' said Osborne, who does not want to move his wife to a shelter and says his insurance company is unwilling to put them up in a hotel. "We would sit around the wood stove.''
Jean Tanis, owner of the Delta station, said that he has gas, but without power, it is of no use.
The motor that pushes oil stored underground to the pumps needs electricity to run, Tanis said. Then the pumps have motors of their own, necessary to funnel the fuel into cars and calibrate it so that customers get the amount that they are paying for. And if you have a credit card you'd also be out of luck, since electricity is necessary to process the payments.
With cars waiting in a line that stretched down the block, Tanis' brother, Daniel, said he was trying to tell customers to tap into Twitter to locate where else they might find fuel and the length of the lines at those stations.. "They won't listen,'' he said. "This is hope. It can be three days. It can be until Monday'' before his brother's station can operate.
Jean Tanis said that he needed the lights to come on and not just to make money. He too was out of gas.
"I've got to siphon gas from cars in the back to fill my truck to go and tow cars,'' Tanis said. People were calling for his tow service because their cars had run out of gas.
"If you don't have electricity,'' Tanis said, "everything is dead.''