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Power returns to NYC after blackout leaves thousands in the dark

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The crippling outage occurred on the anniversary of the 1977 blackout

A swath of Manhattan’s west side lost power Saturday night.
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A power failure swept the west side of Manhattan Saturday evening, at one point leaving more than 70,000 customers without power, according to Con Edison. Power was restored to all customers just before midnight.

Officials say a transformer fire may have caused the outage at 6:47 p.m., plunging subway stations, Broadway theaters, and businesses in the heart of New York City into darkness. Traffic signals shut off, more than 400 elevators stalled trapping people inside, and the incandescent lights of Time Square-42nd Street dimmed. Con Edison said the five-hour outage stemmed from a “disruption” that impacted six Manhattan substations.

“We experienced a significant disturbance on the west side of Manhattan at one of our electric transmission stations,” said John McAvoy, the CEO of Con Edison, at a Saturday night news conference on the Upper West Side. “There are some unknowns in this as we restore equipment we may find damage we are not currently aware of, but we are proceeding on a path to restore all customers hopefully by midnight tonight.”

The blinding lights of Time Square dimmed during the outage.
Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

The outage stretched between Fifth Avenue and the Hudson River, and from 30th and 72nd streets, according to Con Ed. It occurred in a dense swath of Manhattan home to Times Square, the Theater District, and other major tourist attractions. Several Broadway shows were forced to cancel their evening performances due to the power loss.

McAvoy said the outage does not appear related to “excessive load” or aging equipment and that crews will conduct a full investigation of the cause after power has been completely restored. NYPD Police Commissioner James O’Neill said no criminality was involved. As of Sunday afternoon, no injuries or fatalities have been reported due to the blackout, said the city’s Office of Emergency Management.

The blackout crippled the subway system with disruptions in service between Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. The A, C, D, E, F, M 1, 2, and 3 trains all experienced significant delays or temporary stoppages, according to the MTA. NYPD officers helped rescue some 2,800 straphangers who were stranded on trains stuck in tunnels, said O’Neill.

The roads fared no better with officials closing all lanes of traffic on West 42nd Street to West 71st Street between the Hudson River to Fifth Avenue in both directions, according to OEM. As some 100 traffic agents scrambled to the area from precincts across the city, New Yorkers stepped in to help direct traffic.

FDNY said it responded to a manhole fire at West 64th Street and West End Avenue Saturday evening, though it is unclear if the incident is related to the outage. The Con Edison equipment failures apparently stemmed from a substation on West 49th Street between 11th and 12th avenues in Hell’s Kitchen, the company said. That issue triggered additional Con Ed substations across Manhattan to go dark.

The famed Radio City Musical Hall was plunged into darkness.
Timothy Clary/Getty Images

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is vying for the democratic nomination for the 2020 presidential election, was on a scheduled campaign stop in Waterloo, Iowa, but on Twitter directed New Yorkers to the Office of Emergency Management for updates. De Blasio initially said he would return to the city Sunday, but as the blackout stretched late into Saturday, he altered course and traveled to Chicago where he caught the earliest flight to New York City. De Blasio faced swift criticism for his absence, which he defended Sunday.

“Soon as it became clear we did not have an immediately resolvable crisis I started moving,” the mayor told reporters Sunday.

During a Saturday press conference just before midnight, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that “this could have been much worse,” and stressed that “we saw New Yorkers at their best, we saw New Yorkers helping other New Yorkers.”

Earlier in the evening, Cuomo said that state police, the MTA, and the Department of Public Service were directed to “deploy personnel and resources to aggressively respond to this incident and work to restore power as soon as possible.”

“While fortunately no injuries occurred as a result of this incident, the fact that it happened at all is unacceptable,” Cuomo said in his earlier statement. “I am directing the Department of Public Service to investigate and identify the exact cause of the outages to help prevent an incident of this magnitude from happening again. Until the recovery is complete, we will continue to take all necessary actions to ensure the safety and security of New Yorkers.”

Coincidentally, Saturday was the 42nd anniversary of the citywide blackout of 1977.

This post will be updated as news develops.