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Millions Without Power; Con Ed Cuts Service To 6,500

UPDATED 10/30/12 1:04 a.m.

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- As Superstorm Sandy raged, millions of customers in the New York City metro area were without power Monday night.

As of early Tuesday, about 4.1 million customers served by Con Edison, LIPA, PSEG, JCP&L, Connecticut Light and Power, Orange & Rockland, and NYSEG were without power. A customer is defined by a power meter, meaning that far more than 4.1 million people were in the dark.

In Manhattan alone, outages stretched from East 39th Street south all the way to the lower tip, Con Edison reported. A massive explosion rocked a Con Ed plant at 14th Street and Franklin D. Roosevelt East River Drive at 8:30 p.m. Monday.

About 6,500 of those customers had their power cut intentionally by Con Ed, in in an effort to protect equipment and allow for quicker restoration.

The company cut power to two areas – one bounded by Franklin Street on the north, William Street on the west, Wall Street on the south, and the East River on the east. The other is bounded by Broadway on the west, Wall Street on the north, and the lower tip of Manhattan on the south and east.

"The seawater from the storm surge threatened to flood the underground electrical delivery system. That prompted the shutdown," Con Ed spokesman Allan Drury told CBS 2 Monday evening. "The shutdown will help avoid extensive damage to both company equipment and customer equipment, and that will allow us to help restore power more quickly once the storm passes."

Lower Manhattan Without Power Following Sandy
This picture shows the skyline of Lower Manhattan without power following Sandy on Oct. 29, 2012. (credit: Alana Newhouse and David Samuels)

How quickly power can be restored depends on the extent of the damage, but power will be restored as soon as possible once the storm moves on, Drury said.

Other areas might also see their power cut.

"It's very possible. We're monitoring really all underground areas, but particularly areas south of 36th Street in Manhattan, and also parts of Brooklyn and Queens, and the Bronx as well," Drury said.

Con Ed warned on Sunday that it might have to cut power in some areas.

Manhattan alone has some 21,000 miles of power lines beneath its streets and Con Ed has said most of the below ground equipment is sealed to protect it from flooding. But the utility said some power might have to be cut, as salt water is more damaging to equipment if power is on.

Meanwhile, Long Island Power Association crews had to stand down because of the extreme winds, but would be out again restoring power beginning at 7 a.m. The outages were spread throughout the island, spokeswoman Elizabeth Flagler said.

"It's a combination of everything – there's trees down, there's wires down, there's transition poles down. We won't know the complete extent of the damage until tomorrow morning when we can survey the areas," Flagler said.

It is expected to take seven to 10 days to get the power back on, she said.

For updates on from your power company, click the links below:

Con Edison

Orange & Rockland

Connecticut Light and Power

Long Island Power Authority

Jersey Central Power & Light

Public Service Gas & Electric Company, N.J.

In New York State alone, Andrew Gov. Cuomo's office said 1,374,312 customers were without power as of 10 p.m.

Most of the affected Con Ed customers were in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island; most JCP&L customers were in Middletown Township, Toms River and Brick Township; and most Connecticut customers were in Colebrook, Barkamsted, New Hartford, Marlsborough, Salem, and Hebron.

As anticipated, trouble with power lines has also been reported. On 92nd Avenue in Richmond Hill, Queens, power lines were popping and sparking after water got into the insulation.

Residents were concerned before the Fire Department came to cut the lines.

"It just started at the corner. It was just a loud popping sound, and then it looked like a bunch of fireworks were occurring," said resident Patrick Frey. "So by then, I had looked, and then I looked back, and it stopped, and then I went by my friend's, and all of a sudden, I hear more popping noises, and I came outside, and it's traveling now."

Drury advised that anyone who sees sparking or downed power lines to stay away.

"Never assume that they're de-energized. Assume that they're live," Drury said." So don't trust them with your hands or any object. Don't try to move them at all."

All downed wires should be reported to Con Ed and local police immediately. If a power line falls on your car when you are in it, Con Ed says to stay inside and wait for help.

Con Ed also advises that if you still have electrical power, you should fully charge your cell phone, laptop and other mobile devices, as well as extra batteries, so you can maintain communication. Any flashlights or battery-operated radios should also be checked to ensure they are working.

Also, Con Ed advises that if your power goes out, you should turn off all lights and appliances to prevent overloaded circuits when power is restored.

If your power is out, Con Ed advises against opening your freezer to see if its contents are still frozen, as every time the door is opened, the thawing process is accelerated. Most fully-loaded freezers will keep items frozen for about 36 to 48 hours, and most half-full freezers will keep food frozen for about 24 hours.

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