NEW YORK — The lights went back on Saturday in lower Manhattan, prompting screams of sweet relief from residents who'd been plunged into darkness for nearly five days by Superstorm Sandy. But the joy contrasted with deepening resentment in the city's outer boroughs and suburbs over a continued lack of power and maddening gas shortages
Lines snaked around gas stations for many blocks all over the stricken region, including northern New Jersey, where the governor imposed rationing that recalled the worst days of fuel shortages of the 1970s.
But nowhere was the scene more confused than at a refueling station in Brooklyn, where the National Guard gave away free gas. There, a mass of honking cars, desperate drivers and people on foot, carrying containers from empty bleach bottles to five-gallon Poland Spring water jugs, was just the latest testament to the misery unleashed by Sandy.
"It's chaos, it's pandemonium out here," said Chris Damon, who had been waiting for 3½ hours at the site and had circled the block five times. "It seems like nobody has any answers."
Added Damon: "I feel like a victim of Hurricane Katrina. I never thought it could happen here in New York, but it's happened."
Damon, 42, had already been displaced to Brooklyn from his home in Queens, where he still lacked power, as did millions outside Manhattan — from Staten Island, the hardest-hit borough, to Westchester County and other suburban areas.
Domingo Isasi was in a gas line in Staten Island, and minced no words about the divide between Manhattan and the outer boroughs.
"The priorities are showing, simply by the fact that Manhattan got their power back," he said, adding that Staten Islanders are used to being lower on the list.
"We're the bastard kids who keep getting slapped in the head and told to shut up," he said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said resolving the gas shortages could take days.
At a giveaway station in Queens, the scene was calmer but not happier. Hundreds of cars stretched more than a dozen blocks, with one tanker filling cars one at a time. A police car pulled alongside one car about 250th in line, and told the driver they hoped there would still be gas by the time he got there.
The 5,000-gallon trucks from the Defense Department were dispatched to five locations around the New York City metropolitan area.
"Do not panic. I know there is anxiety about fuel," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
Hours later, after the long lines formed, New York state officials said the public should stay away from the refueling stations until emergency responders first got their gas and more supplies were made available. National Guard Col. Richard Goldenberg added, however, that those who were already at the distribution sites would not be turned away.
Gas rationing went into effect at noon in 12 counties of northern New Jersey, where police began enforcing rules to allow only motorists with odd-numbered license plates to refuel. Those with even-numbered plates must wait until Sunday.
Jessica Tisdale of Totowa waited in her Mercedes SUV for 40 minutes at a gas station in Jersey City, but didn't quite understand the system and was ordered to pull away because of her even-numbered plate.
"Is it the number or the letter?" she asked around 12:10 p.m. "I don't think it's fair. I've been in the line since before noon. I don't think it's fair. There's no clarity."
The officer who waved her out of line threw up his hands and shrugged.
At an Exxon station in Wall, N.J., Kathryn Davidson, who had an even-numbered plates, got gas anyway by beating the noon deadline.
"How are people supposed to know?" said Davidson, 53, who said it reminded her of the 1970s, when a similar plan was in place.
"There were fistfights and everything. It got nasty," she recalled. "Everyone seems pretty pleasant as of right now."
President Barack Obama visited the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for an update on superstorm recovery efforts and said "there's nothing more important than us getting this right."
He cited the need to restore power; pump out water, particularly from electric substations; ensure that basic needs are addressed; remove debris; and get federal resources in place to help transportation systems come back on line.
About 2.6 million people remained without power in six states after Sandy came ashore Monday night.
About 900,000 people still didn't have electricity in the New York metropolitan area, including about 550,000 on Long Island, Cuomo said. About 80 percent of New York City's subway service has been restored, he added.
The restoration of power beat the sunrise Saturday in the West Village, though just barely. Electricity arrived at 4:23 a.m., said Adam Greene, owner of Snack.
"This morning, I took a really long hot shower," he said.
Greene said one woman had stopped in Saturday to drop off $10 for the staff, saying she regretted she didn't have enough cash to tip adequately during the blackout.
He joked that 28th Street, above which had power, was like "Checkpoint Charlie."
"You crossed 28th Street and people were living a comfortable life," Greene said. "Down here it was dark and cold."
Throughout the West Village, people were emerging from their hibernation, happy to regain their footing. Stores started to reopen. Signs at a Whole Foods Market promised that fresh meat and poultry and baked goods would return Sunday.
At O Cafe, a favorite neighborhood coffee shop, owner Fernando Acier was thrilled when his phone rang just after 8 a.m., while he was still in bed, with news that the power was back. Within an hour, he had summoned staff who lived in Manhattan, and his business was humming.
"People came, craving something hot to finally feel they're home after days of no light, no heat, no food, no nothing," Acier said.
"This is our neighborhood, and people here don't like going uptown. But they were forced to go," he said.
Julia Strom, 53, a singer and composer, said she had never left her West 10th Street brownstone. She not only survived in candlelight, but spent three full nights taking care of a woman in her 90s whose caregivers could not come into the city. On Saturday, though exhausted, she said tending to the elderly woman had been "a privilege; it heightens and beautifies life."
Aida Padilla was thrilled that the power at her large housing authority complex in New York City's Chelsea section had returned late Friday.
"Thank God," said Padilla, 75. "I screamed and I put the lights on. Everybody was screaming. It was better than New Year's."
Asked about whether she had heat, she replied, "hot and cold water and heat! Thank God, Jesus!"
Some lower Manhattan residents, however, were still without steam heat.
Michael Cornelison, 42, who works in IT, was glad power was back in his downtown apartment. But he said he had taken advantage of the darkness too.
"It was nice to disconnect this week," Cornelison said. "I slept a lot."
He'd stocked his Soho apartment with food and padded his freezer with ice packs - to keep the apples pies he baked.
And he watched movies on his laptop, including "Hurricane in the Bayou."
Most people on Staten Island were still without power altogether, and there was grumbling that the borough was a lower priority.
"You know it's true," said Tony Carmelengo, who lives in the St. George section of Staten Island and still does not have electricity.
Added his neighbor, Anthony Como: "It's economics. Manhattan gets everything, let's face it."
With Sunday's New York City Marathon canceled, many of the runners who had come to town for the race worked out their frustrations with a jog through Central Park, the site of the finish line that won't be used. Others scrambled to rebook return flights.
Bloomberg reversed himself Friday and yielded to mounting criticism about running the race, which starts on hard-hit Staten Island and wends through all five of the city's boroughs.
In his first comments since canceling the marathon, Bloomberg said he fought to keep it going but the controversy was becoming "so divisive" and too much of a distraction.
"I still think that we had the resources to do both, and that we want people to be able to take a break and that sort of thing. ... It's a big part of our economy," Bloomberg told WCBS-TV during a visit to Queens. As he spoke, he was met by catcalls from residents angry about the city's response to the storm.
Many runners understood the decision, especially with the death toll from the storm at 105, including 41 in New York City. The destruction and power outages made many New Yorkers recoil at the idea of police protecting a foot race and evicting storm victims from hotels to make way for runners. More than half of the 40,000 runners were from out of town.
Some runners vowed to never enter New York again. Pia Nielsen, who flew in from Copenhagen, said city and race officials would have to regain her trust.
But Lucy Marquez said she would come back, even as tears filled her eyes at the thought of the three young children she left at home in Mexico to run in her first marathon — a race her father competed in 12 years ago.
"Shock. Denial. Rage," she said. "I love New York City. This is the marathon I want to run."