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NYC power restored; first responders help with traffic, fires and people trapped in elevators

The CEO of Con Edison said the blackout resulted from a ‘significant disturbance on the west side of Manhattan at one of our electric transmission stations’


Authorities were scrambling to restore electricity to Manhattan following a power outage that knocked out Times Square’s towering electronic screens and darkened marquees in the theater district and left businesses without electricity, elevators stuck and subway cars stalled.

AP Photo/Michael Owens

By Thomas Tracy and Bill Sanderson
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — Broadway went dark along with much of Midtown and the Upper West Side on Saturday night when a Con Ed equipment failure cut power to hundreds of thousands of people in Manhattan.

Straphangers were led out of subway tunnels, firefighters responded to numerous reports of people trapped in elevators, and nearly a dozen Broadway shows shut down for the night after the outage hit at around 6:55 p.m.

Electricity started to come back at around 10 p.m. Con Edison said all power was back on at around 11:40 p.m.

The blackout hit 42 years to the day after the massive 1977 power outage that wiped out electricity across nearly all of the city.

At its peak, the blackout cut power to more than 73,000 Con Ed customers, said John McAvoy, the company’s CEO.

Exactly how many people were affected was unclear, but the figure was certainly in the hundreds of thousands. A single Con Ed customer in the blackout area could include hundreds of apartments.

McAvoy told reporters the blackout resulted from a “significant disturbance on the west side of Manhattan at one of our electric transmission stations.”

Subway service was stalled in Manhattan and Queens on all the lines designated by letters, which the MTA calls its “B Division.”

“We’re trying to get people out of subways. We’re trying to get people out of elevators. It’s a big mess,” an MTA source said shortly after the blackout struck.

Subway riders were walked through tunnels and led to the station at Columbus Circle, an MTA source said.

Josh Martin said he spent 45 minutes stuck aboard a Brooklyn-bound D train stalled on the express tracks beneath Central Park West. He said he and fellow straphangers watched helplessly as several trains passed them on the local tracks.

“People generally stayed in good humor,” he said.

Martin said he and others aboard the train were finally rescued when the MTA ran a train up from Columbus Circle. That train linked to the front of the stranded D train, and took passengers for a ride to Columbus Circle.

Giant electronic billboards in Times Square went dark.

Mayor de Blasio was absent from the crisis as he pursued his long-shot presidential candidacy with a campaign trip in Iowa. He was expected to get a flight back to the city from Chicago on Sunday morning.

“This appears to be something that just went wrong in the way that they transmit power from one part of the city to another,” de Blasio told CNN. “It sounds like it is addressable in a reasonable amount of time.”

McAvoy said the blackout had its origins in a “disturbance” in Con Ed equipment that began around 6:47 p.m.

Engineers will have to determine exactly what happened, he said. However, McAvoy said the problem was not related to “excessive load,” or the amount of electricity that was passing through the network. Electricity use in New York peaks during the summer months as Con Ed customers turn on air conditioners.

As the problems spread across six of the company’s local networks, a manhole exploded and caught fire around 6:55 p.m. near W. 64th St. and West End Ave.

“The explosion came from below. It took two, three minutes for the smoke to go away,” said Dawa Sherpa, 30, a Queens resident who witnessed the blast.

“People were running — they all covered their faces and noses and started running,” said Sherpa.

“It looked like a real bomb, It smelled so badly, I felt dizzy and I had a headache.”

More than an hour later, the smell of burning rubber lingered in the area.

In the blink of an eye, power was cut to hundreds of thousands of people.

“Everything went dark, and the rats were running everywhere,” said Amanda Martinez, 20, who lived int he Amsterdam Houses, a New York City Housing Authority project in the west 60s.

“It went pitch black,” said Regine Cabble, 22, another Amsterdam Houses resident. “People were lighting fires in the nearby park for light. Everybody was scared. We didn’t know what to do.”

“I was sitting at my computer, and all of a sudden, it went down,” said Eddie Borges, a former Daily News reporter who lives in a 44-story building on W. 55th St.

The hallway of his building was dark — but neighbors soon emerged from their apartments and swapped stories.

“Perfect timing — I just opened a bottle of wine,” one of Borges’ neighbors announced.

“No one is worried. We know the building will take care of it,” Borges said.

At an intersection near Lincoln Center, a sidewalk fruit seller took it upon himself to direct traffic.

In Midtown, someone appeared to hand out yellow safety vests and glow sticks to people who voluntarily directed traffic.

Several shows on Broadway were canceled — including “Hades Town,” “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” “The Lion King” and “King Kong.”

Madison Square Garden was evacuated about 20 minutes into a Jennifer Lopez concert. But it was still a great show — “the 20 mins i got to see of JLO was bomb,” said Twitter user Nicole Juliana.

“Heartbroken to say tonight’s show is canceled. We will reschedule. Love you all!!!” JLo tweeted.

The blackout didn’t stop everything around Midtown. The Winter Garden, Nederlander and Lyceum theaters stayed open, and backup generators kept the Port Authority Bus Terminal running.

No one was reported seriously hurt in the outage.

Gov. Cuomo issued a statement late Saturday saying the state Public Service Commission will investigate the cause of the outage.

With Clayton Guse, Elizabeth Keogh, Kerry Burke, Jasper Lo and Emilie Ruscoe


©2019 New York Daily News