By David Sheppard
NEW YORK (Reuters) - More than half of all service stations in the New York City area and New Jersey were shut on Wednesday due to power outages and depleted fuel supplies, frustrating attempts to restore normal life in the wake of powerful storm Sandy, industry officials said.
Reports of long lines, dark stations and empty tanks circulated across the region on Wednesday, with some station owners unable to pump fuel due to a lack of power, while others quickly ran their tanks dry because of intensified demand and logistical problems in delivering fresh supplies.
The lack of working gas stations is likely to compound travel problems in the region, with the New York subway system expected to be out of action for several days and overland rail and bus services severely disrupted.
In New York, gas stations on Long Island and Staten Island also reported shortages, while lengthy lines were seen in Queens.
In New Jersey, where half of all businesses and homes were still without power, more than 80 percent of filling stations are unable to sell gasoline, said Sal Risalvato, head of the New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience, Automotive Association (NJGCA).
"It's going to be an ugly few days until we can see both power and supplies restored," he said by telephone.
The problem is not a lack of gasoline in the Northeast, but widespread power outages and the logistical problems created by the storm that are making it difficult to get fuel from refineries and terminals to those who need it.
Kevin Beyer, president of the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association in Smithtown, New York, estimated that less than half of all gas stations were able to sell fuel on Wednesday morning.
"I have gas in the ground but no power. For many others they're facing the opposite problem, with power but no gasoline. For the few stations that are lucky enough to have both they've got huge lines out front," Beyer said.
"With the kind of demand they're seeing they're likely to run out of gasoline within the next 24 hours."
Beyer estimated it could take until the end of next week to get all fuel stations operating again.
Four of the region's six oil refineries were back to full production or increasing run rates on Wednesday, but the second-largest - the Bayway plant in New Jersey - was still idle after flooding damage that traders fear could delay its return to full service. Key import terminals were also still shut.
Power is slowly being restored to the affected regions. The Department of Energy said on Wednesday that 51 percent of homes and businesses in New Jersey were still without power. That is down, however, from around 65 percent on Tuesday afternoon.
(Additional reporting by Robert Gibbons in New York; Editing by Claudia Parsons)