* President Obama to visit New York area next week
* “This is our Katrina,” Christie says
* Rationing eases gas lines; 434,000 still without power
By Eddie Evans and Ernest Scheyder
NEW YORK, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Residents of New York and New Jersey were told on Friday to prepare for a long recovery from Superstorm Sandy, as thousands of people grappled with cleaning up their properties, the extended lack of electricity and gasoline shortages nine days after the storm.
New Yorkers faced gasoline rationing for the first time since the energy crisis of the 1970s, as authorities tried to deal with long lines at gas stations and some commuters continued to struggle to get to and from work.
The White House said President Barack Obama would visit the region next week.
Sandy hammered the U.S. East Coast on Oct. 29, killing at least 120 people and causing an estimated $50 billion in damage or economic losses. Then an early season snowstorm pummeled the region on Wednesday, knocking out power to some homes just as they were getting back on the grid.
Rationing on Friday seemed to ease gas lines in New York, just as it did in New Jersey last week, and utilities reported that power was being restored to many homes.
Some 434,000 homes and businesses in the Northeast lacked power as of Friday afternoon, down from 696,000 the previous day, the Energy Department said.
But for coastal communities where thousands of homes were smashed, flooded, filled with sand or burned to the ground, full recovery would take a long time.
“This is not going to be a short journey” for many communities, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference.
And New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, after touring the Shore, said that many popular vacation spots will not be fully rebuilt by next summer. “This is our Katrina,” he declared, referring to the hurricane that washed out New Orleans in 2005.
At Sea Bright, New Jersey, where Christie spoke to reporters, the boardwalk was buckled and the pier was “out to sea,” he said.
Christie said access to Long Beach Island, a popular summer destination evacuated Oct. 29, would reopen on Saturday morning, giving residents their first chance to view the damage to their homes.
Still, he said he expected power to be restored to 100 percent of his state by Saturday night.
Christie, Cuomo and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg all appeared to shift their focus from immediate recovery to long-term rebuilding.
Bloomberg said New York City would work with federal authorities to provide electricians, plumbers and carpenters to people in the worst-hit coastal areas. He said some 40,000 homes in the Rockaways and other neighborhoods had suffered structural damage or salt water had eroded their electrical circuits and power could not be restored until they were sound.
Bloomberg said the program, to be paid mostly by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, would be faster than asking individual homeowners to find contractors and would get people back in their homes by the end of the year. “We think we can kick-start this,” he said.
In the Long Island town of Oceanside, protesters - many without power - took to the streets chanting, “Where is LIPA? Where is LIPA?” LIPA is the Long Island Power Authority, a state-owned utility.
In the Rockaways, a hard-hit area of Long Island, New York, that faces the ocean, a group of military veterans known as Team Rubicon helped residents shovel sand away from their homes, remove rotted drywall from basements and haul large items to the sidewalk.
At the sidewalk, New York sanitation workers used huge tractors to scoop the debris into dump trucks that hauled it away.
Peter Meijer, a Team Rubicon member who said he just returned from a trip helping refugees in South Sudan, was glad to be helping. “This is more satisfying than even my time in the military,” he said.
Friday was the first day of gasoline rationing in New York City and some surrounding counties, a measure introduced by Bloomberg and Cuomo to ease long gasoline lines brought on by Sandy. Cars with odd- and even-numbered license plates will be able to buy gas and diesel fuel on alternate days.
Ralph Bombardiere, executive director of the New York State Association of Service Stations and Repair Shops, said the situation was worse than the fuel crisis of the 1970s.
“Back then there was just a perceived shortage of supply in New York, when there was plenty of gasoline around,” he said. “Now we’re having real distribution problems.”
While Sandy did disrupted the fuel supply to New York, Cuomo said the key problem was panic buying. “More than anything, we have to get buyers to relax,” he said.
Some 28 percent of gas stations in the New York metropolitan area did not have fuel available for sale on Friday, the same level as on Thursday, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said.
With parts of the transportation network still damaged, the long lines at the pump added to the frustration of commuters, who must choose between driving and enduring seemingly interminable waits for buses and trains.
The Morris Truck, which usually drives around Manhattan’s midtown or financial districts selling $10 grilled cheese sandwiches, instead handed them out for free in the Rockaways, paid for by New York City.
“I had no idea how bad it was out here until I came,” said Kenan Fedele, who handed out more than 400 sandwiches and four gallons of spicy tomato bisque to victims of Sandy.
The truck showed up around 11 a.m. and was out of sandwiches by 3:30 p.m., Fedele said.