Tens of thousands in New York without power as blackout problem enters fifth day
NEW YORK – A mysterious blackout during the hottest week of the year left tens of thousands of New Yorkers without power for a fifth day Friday as residents sweltered, businesses idled and city officials seethed after the power company revealed the outages were 10 times larger than previously reported.”It’s a total catastrophe. We’ve been throwing things out for four days,” restaurant owner Louis Panazakos lamented as workers threw out garbage bags full of fresh pasta and sauces.Power company Con Edison initially said fewer than 2,500 customers were affected, but it increased that number tenfold Friday morning to 25,000 customers. By 9 p.m., the number of customers without power had dropped to 23,950, the utility said.The new estimate stunned Mayor Michael Bloomberg who said “we might have thrown more resources into the area” had he known so many people were affected.Bloomberg estimated that would translate to about 100,000 people considering that each “customer” could be more than one household in an area where homes are often sectioned into multiple units, and could even be an entire apartment building.”The sad thing is, this shouldn’t have happened,” Bloomberg said. “We don’t know why, but the most important thing – make sure nobody dies or gets hurt and then help Con Ed to get it back up.”The blackouts started Monday in a handful of neighborhoods in Queens. Two LaGuardia Airport terminals lost power Monday night and again on Tuesday.Since then, hundreds of businesses have been idle, and the city’s jail complex on Rikers Island has had to operate on backup generators. Some building’s elevators were not running, and traffic lights at some intersections were not working.”This is outrageous,” City Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr. said. “When is this going to be fixed? If it’s going to be days, they should tell people it is going to be days.”Con Edison said its revised number followed a block-by-block cable inspection in northwest Queens on Thursday night. That led to the higher number – and escalated the rhetoric against Con Edison, the main power company in New York City and Westchester County.Queens District Attorney Richard Brown issued a statement Friday saying his staff was conducting a review to determine whether criminal charges are warranted.”To know that elderly and sick Queens residents were without vital services for days because of Con Edison’s lies is just criminal,” Assemblyman Michael Gianaris said.Bloomberg demanded that the utility investigate and deliver a report on the cause of the outages in Queens within two weeks.A series of heavy-duty circuits that supply the area began to fail Monday evening, just hours after the sweltering state set a record for electricity use. More circuits failed Tuesday and more again Wednesday, even after the city’s heat wave ended and demand for power plummeted.The blackouts were at their worst on Wednesday, when 10 of the 22 feeder cables that supply the area with power were down simultaneously. The temperature had hit 100 degrees in the neighborhood the day before.Just why heat would have triggered a problem in Queens, but not elsewhere, was unclear.”We’re trying to get them up as quickly as possible. We’re working 24/7, and we’re hoping that the bulk of the customers that are out will be back on Sunday,” said Alfonso Quiroz, a spokesman for Con Edison.Con Edison trucks lined a street in Queens while workers were busy digging to fix power lines. Most of the street’s shops were shuttered, but the owner of VIP men’s clothing store, Bobby Collazo, was attending to a customer in the dark. He said he had lost more than $1,000 because of the outages, nearly a third of his monthly gross income.”In 2003 it took a day and a half to turn on all of the lights in New York City and now this little store here has been closed for three days – with the big Con Ed power station a few blocks away,” he said, referring to the massive blackout of three years ago that darkened much of the Northeast.Con Edison is the subsidiary of Consolidated Edison Inc., one of the nation’s largest investor-owned energy companies. It has approximately $12 billion in annual revenues and $25 billion in assets.—Associated Press writers David B. Caruso and Sara Kugler contributed to this report.
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