The mounting despair came even as the subways began rolling again after a three-day shutdown. Service was restored to most of the city, but not the most stricken parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, where the tunnels were flooded.
Bridges into the city were open, but police enforced a carpooling rule and peered into windows to make sure each car had at least three people. The rule was meant to ease congestion but appeared to worsen it. Traffic jams stretched for miles, and drivers who made it into the city reported that some people got out of their cars to argue with police.
With only partial subway service, lines at bus stops swelled. More than 1,000 people packed the sidewalk outside an arena in Brooklyn, waiting for buses to Manhattan. Nearby, hundreds of people massed on a sidewalk.
When a bus pulled up, passengers rushed the door. A transit worker banged on a bus window, yelled at people inside, and then yelled at people in the line.
With the electricity out and gasoline supplies scarce, many gas stations across the New York area remained closed, and stations that were open drew long lines of cars that spilled out onto roads.
AAA estimated that 60 percent of the stations in New Jersey were shut, along with up to 70 percent of the stations in Long Island.
Betty Bethea, 59, waited nearly three hours to get to the front of the line at a Gulf station in Newark.
Bethea had tried to drive to her job at a northern New Jersey Kohl's store on Thursday morning, only to find her low-fuel light on. She and her husband crisscrossed the region in search of gas and were shooed away by police at every closed station she encountered.
"It is crazy out here - people scrambling everywhere, cutting in front of people. I have never seen New Jersey like this," Bethea said.
The worst was over at least for public transportation. The Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North were running commuter trains again, though service was limited. NJ Transit had no rail service but most of its buses were back.
Amtrak said late Thursday that it would resume service between New York City and Boston on Friday following the repair of commuter rail tracks.