Manhattan power outage: Parts of New York City plunged into chaos after transformer fire cuts electricity

Many of Times Square's iconic billboards turned black

David Maclean
New York
Sunday 14 July 2019 03:47 BST
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Lights come back on in Manhattan after power outage

Manhattan was plunged into darkness on Saturday night as a transformer fire shut off power to tens of thousands of people in the heart of the city’s tourist district.

Subway passengers were stranded inside sweltering train cars and lifts, top Broadway shows were cancelled, and pedestrians stepped in to direct vehicles after traffic lights shut down.

The New York City Fire Department said a transformer fire triggered the blackout, which hit a 30-block stretch from Times Square to about 72nd Street and Broadway, to the west of Central Park.

One of the worst-hit areas was the Theatre District - while many of nearby Times Square’s iconic electronic billboards were blacked out.

Eerie photographs circulated showing just a couple of skyscrapers glowing amid a sea of darkness - likely reliant on their own backup power generators.

Most Broadway shows were cancelled, and several cast members from the show Hadestown put on an impromptu performance in the street outside the theatre for disappointed audience members.

Lucy Gray, The Independent’s assistant audience editor, was in Midtown when the power went out.

“It was absolute chaos. All the Broadway shows were being cancelled and the streets were absolutely packed.

The scene close to Broadway following the cancellation of shows
The scene close to Broadway following the cancellation of shows

“Traffic lights stopped working and policy were have to help emergency services get through.

“All the shops and restaurants were in darkness and it felt like an apocalypse movie.”

Emily Totero, 30, planned to bring out-of-town guests to see "Moulin Rouge." But once they got to the theatre district, they saw the power go out.

"You could see all the theatre lights across the street, all the marquees went out. That's what we noticed first," she said.

A tweet posted at 8pm by city power provider Con Edison said: "We are working to restore power to 42,000 customers primarily in the Westside of Manhattan. We will provide updates as we receive them. Thank you." By around 11pm, five of six affected electricity networks were back up and running.

A map shared online by Con Edison shows the areas affected
A map shared online by Con Edison shows the areas affected

Ginger Tidwell, a dance teacher and Upper West Side resident, was about to order at the West Side diner on Broadway and West 69th Street just before 7pm.

"The lights started flickering, and then were out," she said. "We got up and left, walking up Broadway with all the traffic lights out and businesses dark."

Summer power outages in New York can be caused by the strain of air conditioning units on the grid during sweltering summer heat. It was close to 30C at 10pm on Saturday evening - very warm, but not as hot as it can get at this time of year.

The blackout comes on the anniversary of the 1977 New York City outage that left most of the city without power and led to widespread looting.

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