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Two to Four Days for Con Edison to Restore Power to 780,000 in the Dark

By  Aidan Gardiner Jill Colvin and Alan Neuhauser | October 30, 2012 8:43am | Updated on October 30, 2012 3:15pm

NEW YORK CITY — More than a quarter-million households woke up without power Tuesday morning after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the city — and they will have to wait days for the lights to come back on, the mayor and city officials said. 

Downtown Manhattan bore the brunt of the outages, with just under 230,000 customers losing power after 13-foot storm surges knocked out electrical facilities in the area, a spokeswoman for the company said.

Currently, about 250,000 customers are without power in Manhattan, according to Con Edison. About 109,000 customers are without power on Staten Island, 108,000 in Queens, 87,000 in Brooklyn and 45,000 in The Bronx, Con Ed said. Additionally, 180,000 in Westchester lost power.

Fixing the outages in Brooklyn and Manhattan — including in the Financial District — is expected to take up to four days, Con Ed officials said.

The situation is even worse in areas serviced by overhead power lines, where restoring service could take "at least a week," officials said, since many roads are still flooded or have been blocked by fallen trees.

“The damage we suffered across the city is clearly extensive and it will not be repaired overnight,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a press conference at Tuesday.

“I think it is fair to say, given the extent of the damage, power may be out in lots of places for two or three days and maybe even a little bit longer than that.”

Con Ed crews voluntarily shut power to approximately 35,000 customers in lower Manhattan and Brighton Beach to protect underground equipment from damage, according to Con Ed senior vice president John Miksad.

While that move will help speed the process, crews will still have to wait until the water recedes to fully assess the damage before moving to restore power, including pumping out basements, drying and cleaning equipment, evaluating the damage and repairing it.

To make matters more complicated, a portion of a Con Ed substation on East 14th Street and the FDR Drive was rocked by an explosion at about 7 p.m. Monday that plunged a quarter-million more customers south of Midtown into darkness.

The explosion occurred when a circuit breaker failed, said John McAvoy, a Con Ed representative.

"What happened is, that circuit break, which contains high voltage, became inundated with river water because of the extremely high tide, which literally had never been seen before in New York City," McAvoy said. "The salt water came into contact with high-voltage components, [which] caused sparking and the circuit break to explode and fail."

That knocked out power to most of Manhattan south of 39th Street on the East Side and 31st Street on the West Side, McAvoy said. Parts of Battery Park City retained power because the neighborhood gets electricity from Brooklyn, McAvoy said.

Officials said Monday it is not clear how long it will take to repair the East 14th Street facility, but they hope to have it up and running by the end of the week or sooner.

"We are in a bit if unchartered territory here," Miksad said.

Con Ed officials stressed that the numbers of outages were dynamic, as power is restored to some areas and more outages are reported.

Repair crews won’t be able to access areas with downed trees while high winds still batter the area for fear of flying debris, and water in flooded areas still needs to be pumped out, officials said.

“We’re dealing with a lot right now,” Con Ed spokeswoman D. Joy Faber said. “We’re all working around the clock. All of us.”

In the meantime, Faber stressed staying away from fallen trees and downed wires.

“Don’t touch anything. Don’t assume anything is dead. Treat every wire as live,” Faber said. “Some of these wires you can’t even see: they might be covered by leaves and trees.”

The storm caused a record number of outages for a weather event. The previous record was set last year during Hurricane Irene, when about 203,000 customers lost service, ConEd said.

With reporting by Ben Fractenberg