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NYC Blackout: Cause Of Massive Manhattan Outage Under Investigation


NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Cheers erupted on the street when West Side residents finally started to get power back late Saturday night.

More than 72,000 Con Edison customers, from Fifth Avenue to the Hudson River and the West 30s to 72nd Street, were plunged into darkness around 6:47 p.m. as a result of an electrical disturbance, CBS2's Ali Bauman reported.

"I saw on the corner of 64th and West End Avenue that one of the manhole covers, there was some black smoke coming out of it, then the power went completely out and I ended up calling 911," one man said.

The blackout happened on the 42nd anniversary of the 1977 power outage that plunged the city into darkness and chaos. This time was calmer and there were no injuries, police said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio was in Iowa on Saturday throughout the blackout, but came back to town Sunday, holding a press conference in the afternoon, CBS2's Reena Roy reported.

"We, as in every situation, are going to fully analyze every detail, working with Con Edison to figure out what exactly happened and exactly how we can make sure it never happens again," de Blasio said.

Web Extra: Mayor Bill De Blasio, Officials Discuss NYC Blackout:

Con Ed CEO John McAvoy said the utility's probe is just getting started.

"When we have an incident like this, we focus first on isolation of the failed equipment or the most likely failed equipment and then restoration of the customers, and then when customers are restored is when we really do the full root cause investigation to identify what may have caused it," McAvoy said.

The energy company released the following statement Sunday:

"Con Edison sincerely regrets the power disruption to our customers on the west side of Manhattan last night and will be conducting a diligent and vigorous investigation to determine the root cause of the incident. As we reported yesterday, a significant electrical transmission disturbance occurred at 6:47 p.m., impacting multiple circuits in the area, and leading to the loss of service to approximately 72,000 customers. We restored power to all affected areas shortly before midnight.

"Over the next several days and weeks, our engineers and planners will carefully examine the data and equipment performance relating to this event, and will share our findings with regulators and the public. We applaud the work of all emergency responders and our employees who helped restore power swiftly and keep the public safe. We also commend the patience and understanding of all New Yorkers who remained calm and poised during this incident."

Emergency vehicles were navigating through chaotic streets without traffic lights. The FDNY had to rescue several people trapped in high-rise elevators.

The New York City skyline went dark during a massive blackout on July 13, 2019. (Credit: CBS2)

As the sun set, the danger became more apparent.

"You just can't have a power outage of this magnitude in this city. It is too dangerous. The potential for public safety risk and chaos is too high. We just can't have a system that does this," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

Some delis and restaurants were trying to serve customers with flashlights, and Hell's Kitchen residents passed the time on their stoops, too hot to be in their apartments without air conditioning. All the while, Con Ed was working to get the power back on one neighborhood at a time.

MOREBlackout Hurts Many Manhattan Businesses, But Some Soften Blow With Quick Thinking

Power was fully restored throughout Manhattan before midnight. Now, Con Ed and city officials are trying to figure out how this happened and how to prevent a night like this from happening again.

The governor spoke to CBS2 by phone on Sunday afternoon.

When asked by Roy how 72,000 people could lose power all at once in a city of this size, Cuomo said, "It is a good question. It's just unacceptable. It is unacceptable. We need a better power system, a better grid with redundancies."

Cuomo said he is working with Con Ed to find out why there was not a backup system in place, and how one can be implemented in the near future. He has also ordered an independent investigation with a team of power experts, Roy reported.

At a press conference Sunday, Sen. Chuck Schumer called on the federal Department of Energy's office of electricity to investigate the blackout, including what happened, could Con Ed have done a better job and what can be done to prevent this from happening in the future.

Web Extra: Sen. Chuck Schumer Addresses Massive Manhattan Blackout:

"Con Ed has improved, but they still have to do a lot more. They've improved because, unlike the Queens blackout that occurred in 2006, this was fixed quickly. It was fixed in a relatively short amount of time. That is good," Schumer said. "On the other hand, it shouldn't happen at all, and God forbid if someone were stuck in an elevator and had a heart attack or a stroke and couldn't get out of that elevator, things would have been worse. Thank God that didn't happen, but we cannot have these blackouts in cities as densely populated as ours. Is Con Ed putting in all the money to upgrade its infrastructure ... so these don't happen again? They are happening with less frequency and this was restored quickly. That's better, but not good enough."

The senator said he's also asking the Small Business Administration to look into the blackout because it can reimburse restaurants and small business owners who might have lost money during the incident.

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