NYC power outage stretched 30 blocks, affected entire subway system

A power outage caused by a transformer explosion affected a wide swath of Manhattan Saturday night, knocking out power to parts of Times Square, stores, subways and Broadway theatres.

Governor says power failure of this magnitude 'unacceptable'

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to reporters on Saturday following a blackout due to widespread power outages in the Manhattan borough of New York. (Catherine Koppel/Reuters)

On the anniversary of a 1977 blackout that left most of New York City without power, a massive power outage on a hot Saturday night in Manhattan preemptively brought the curtain down on Broadway shows and packed streets with people wielding cellphones as flashlights amid a cacophony of sirens and horns from stalled traffic.

Underground, the scene was similarly in disarray as the blackout affecting 73,000 customers for more than three hours hit the subway system. Con Edison CEO John McAvoy said a problem at a substation caused the 6:47 p.m. power failure, which stretched 30 blocks from Times Square to 72nd Street and Broadway and spread to Rockefeller Center. Electricity was restored to customers and businesses in midtown Manhattan and the Upper West Side by around midnight, according to a statement from the utility.

The outage was reportedly caused by a transformer explosion, but McAvoy said the exact cause would not be known until an investigation is completed.

The outage affected the entire subway system, closing four Manhattan stations to the public — Columbus Circle, Rockefeller Center, Hudson Yards and Fifth Avenue at 53rd Street. But Metropolitan Transportation Agency spokesman Maxwell Young said train operators were able to manually change the signals and bring at least one car into stations so passengers could disembark.

Left to right, Cami Hunter, Lilli Hunter, Lori Hunter, and Bailey Rainey sit across the street from their apartment building on West 64th Street after losing power. The outage left portions of Manhattan, including Times Square and the Upper West Side, in the dark and disrupting subway service across the city. (Scott Heins/Getty Images)

New York City's Emergency Management Department said the A, C, D, E, F, M, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 trains had resumed running in both directions by around 2 a.m. Sunday, following service disruptions from the blackout. Multiple street lanes between the Hudson River and Fifth Avenue had also reopened by 1:30 a.m.

The temperature was in the low 80s F (26 to 30C) as the sun set just before 8:30 p.m., treating those who had streamed into the street to one of the city's famed "Manhattanhenge" sunsets. While hot, the temperature didn't reach the highs of Manhattan in July, which often challenges the city's power grid.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised emergency officials for their response to the blackout and said no injuries were reported, but called the outage "unacceptable."

"You just can't have a power outage of this magnitude in this city" Cuomo said. "It is too dangerous, the potential for public safety risk and chaos is too high, we just can't have a system that does that, it's that simple at the end of the day."

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was campaigning on the presidential trail in Iowa when the power outage struck. His press secretary, Freddi Goldstein, tweeted just before 10 p.m. that de Blasio cut short his Iowa visit and was headed back to the city.

Seen from the air, a large section of Manhattan's Upper West Side and Midtown neighbourhoods sit in darkness during the power outage. (Scott Heins/Getty Images)

The mayor commended New Yorkers for handling the blackout "with that trademark NYC grit and toughness" in a tweet.

Impromptu Broadway shows in the street

For hours before the power flicked back on, doormen stood with flashlights in the darkened entrances of upscale apartment buildings along Central Park West, directing residents up flights of stairs, with all elevators out. Police and deployed troopers directed traffic at intersections, while people in the neighborhood known as Hell's Kitchen took it upon themselves to direct traffic as stoplights and walking signals went dark.

In the theatre district, marquees darkened just before evening performances were set to begin. Most Broadway musicals and plays cancelled their Saturday evening shows, though some cast members staged impromptu performances in the street.

Jennifer Lopez's concert at Madison Square Garden was cut short in the middle of her fourth song of the night, although officials at Penn Station below used backup generators to keep the lights on. Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts were all evacuated. Lopez later tweeted that she would reschedule the stop on her "It's My Party" tour for Monday night at the same venue.


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