It lasted all of five hours — and hit just the spot on New York’s power system to take out the lights in Times Square, force the evacuation of Madison Square Garden in the middle of a Jennifer Lopez concert and bring parts of the city’s subway system to a screeching halt.
The blackout extended from about Fifth Avenue to the Hudson River, and from the 40s to 72nd Street. The outage took out much of Midtown, Hell’s Kitchen, Rockefeller Center and the lower reaches of Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It struck at 6.47 p.m. Saturday, lasted until about midnight and affected almost 73,000 customers, according to Consolidated Edison Inc.
The outage peeled back disparities between old technology and new: halted subways meant a $2.75 fare ballooned to a $57 Uber primed to surge pricing.
The impact was so widespread that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio cut short a presidential campaign trip to Iowa and Governor Andrew Cuomo went on television to demand answers from “Mr. ConEd” himself.
The utility, already in hot water because of other mechanical breakdowns in recent years, now faces renewed calls to overhaul its network.
BLACKOUT: New York authorities say a power shortage has left businesses without electricity, elevators stuck and subway cars stalled in parts of Manhattan’s midtown and Upper West Side neighborhoods #blackout pic.twitter.com/JS9P7pVCqh
— TicToc by Bloomberg (@tictoc) July 14, 2019
Cuomo, expressing frustration over what he described as repeated failures on ConEd’s system, said in an interview with ABC News that he was sending his “top power team” to investigate the incident. He noted that Saturday’s outage took hours to resolve when the utility had said it would take one to two.
“If they don’t give me an answer quickly, I’m going to go to ConEd headquarters,” he said. “If I don’t get a firm answer forthwith, I’ll go speak to Mr. ConEd myself.”
De Blasio, meanwhile, called on city agencies to “get to the bottom” of the incident.
“We’re going to look at this very carefully, not only depend on Con Edison but we’re going to make sure there’s a very careful review of what happened,” the mayor said on CNN’s “State of the Union” from Chicago. “We don’t ever want to see it happen again.”
The power failure struck on the anniversary of the historic 1977 blackout that led to widespread looting and other crimes across New York City.
— Jennifer Lopez (@JLo) July 14, 2019
Just over six months ago, ConEd was facing an investigation after an electrical fire at a substation turned New York City’s night sky blue, temporarily disrupting flights and subway services. In July 2018, it was the subject of a probe after an asbestos-lined steam pipe ruptured in Manhattan’s Flatiron district. And a power failure in 2017 led to significant delays on the subway during a morning commute, triggering an investigation that cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars.
De Blasio on CNN didn’t directly answer a question about whether the grid is vulnerable, saying: “We haven’t had many instances like this in recent years, and that’s a very good thing.”
Cuomo said Saturday’s outage appeared to have been caused by a substation explosion and fire that went on to affect four other substations. As of 1:30 a.m. in New York on Sunday, 152 customers across ConEd’s system were without power.
ConEd Chief Executive Officer John McAvoy told reporters late Saturday that the company would investigate the root cause of the event and “restore the system to a fully normal condition once we understand what exactly occurred.” He said the power failure didn’t appear to be weather-related. Hot weather typically sends power demand surging as people blast air conditioners.
When asked about reports of a fire in a manhole cover, he said it was “very unlikely” that such a blaze could cause “an incident of this scale.”