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NYC Blackout Causes Chaos, But Power Back Quickly

CBS | June 28, 2007

NEW YORK The blackout was big but brief, darkening a large swath of Manhattan and the Bronx for less than an hour. But the short outage on a sweltering day recalled some of the confusion the city endured during blackouts last year and in 2003, and it left some residents wondering whether it was a sign of trouble to come.

"It doesn't bode well for the rest of the summer, but I'm impressed they got it back on so fast," said Nancy Marcus, a manager at an optician's store on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

The outage Wednesday knocked out traffic lights, snarled subway service and forced the evacuation of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on one of the hottest days of the year.

"It was chaos," said motorist Edward Ankudavich, who spent an hour traveling 20 blocks in the Bronx.

Passengers on the subway lines voiced their anger after being stuck on trains for nearly an hour.

When CBS 2 asked one rider what he wanted to say to Con Ed, he replied: "I'd rather not say."

The blackout affected approximately 385,000 people, Consolidated Edison Chief Executive Kevin Burke said at a news conference. The outage began at 3:42 p.m. and all power was restored by 4:30 p.m., he said.

"We view this as a significant event," Burke said. But with a season of high electricity demand only beginning, he strove to reassure New Yorkers that the "likelihood of this happening again is very low."

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"We know we have a big job and an important job and the most important thing is that when something does happen, we have to get the power back on as soon as possible, which is what we did," Con Edison spokesman Mike Clendenin told CBS 2 HD. "The system is stable, and up until this moment, things went well in this heat wave."

The city was in the second day of temperatures hovering around 90 degrees. Visitors at the Met were forced to sit on the outside steps in the sweltering heat. Traffic lights up and down the east side of Manhattan and the Bronx were out, causing heavy gridlock.

Lights went out around Yankee Stadium, and subway and train service was disrupted all around New York, which consumes more power on a hot summer day than the entire nation of Chile.

Burke said the disruption had nothing to do with the level of electricity Con Ed customers were using at the time. The cause was under investigation, but he said lightning was a possibility. There were severe thunderstorms in the area.

Though other sources told CBS 2 News that lightning might have been the cause of the problem.

CBS 2's weather team, however, says there was not one single lightning strike in the Upper East Side. The closest strike came in Long Island City.

The problem started in a Queens substation that is connected to two others in the Bronx and Upper East Side, Burke said.

Con Edison said the blackout affected 136,700 customers. A customer can consist of a single-family home or an entire apartment building, so one customer often translates into four people.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg lost power at his private home and at the official mayoral residence that he uses for ceremonial events, both of which are on the Upper East Side. He said the outage was a "minor inconvenience."

"I think it's fair to say that resetting your clock was probably the worst thing that happened," he said.

The power outage caused suspensions and delays along the city's subways, but the blackout mainly affected track signals and not the movement of trains or air conditioning in the cars, officials said.

The Metro-North commuter railroad, which serves the northern suburbs, had to reduce the number of trains it was using, resulting in delays and crowded trains, said spokeswoman Marjorie Anders. But she said the problems were fixed by the evening rush hour.

At the Met, museum staffers started moving people out of galleries shortly after the blackout hit. About 2,500 people had to leave.

It was not clear whether there were any injuries related to the blackout. But a man fainted in the Bronx courthouse in a stuck elevator, said Sgt. Glenn Kane, a court officer.

A severe storm in upstate New York the same day left about 45,000 people without power near Albany. In addition, the storm caused delays of up to three hours at LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports.

The power outage was reminiscent of previous summer blackouts that struck New York City.

Last summer, about 174,000 people were affected by a blackout in Queens. Residents sweltered without air conditioners on some of the hottest days of the year, and estimated business losses ran into the tens of millions of dollars as stores were forced to throw out perished goods.

The Public Service Commission issued a blistering report on that blackout earlier this year, charging Con Ed's performance was "unacceptable and a gross disservice to its customers."

Con Edison acknowledged that its performance last summer "was not up to the standards our customers have come to expect." But the utility said it was learning from that experience and "implementing many infrastructure improvements and new emergency response procedures."

That includes a $1.4 billion investment to meet this year's summer power demand, including upgrades to substations and the distribution system.

"Our 14,000 employees have been hard at work preparing for this summer, and we continue to make substantial investments in our electric delivery system to provide New Yorkers with the high level of service reliability they deserve," Burke said two weeks ago as Con Ed unveiled a $300 million substation complex in the Bronx. The complex was not involved in Wednesday's blackout.

 

 

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