New York City got hit with widespread power outages in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, with some 793,000 in the metropolitan area without power, according to a Con Edison spokesperson.
Getting the power back won't be easy, largely because of the flooding. It will probably be at least a few days before power can be restored. "We're focusing on damage assessment," the spokesperson said. Con Edison Senior Vice President for Electric Operations John Miksad told CBS New York that it was the biggest storm-related power outage in the company's history.
Con Edison serves 3.2 million people in Westchester County and New York City. In Westchester, some 180 roads are closed by downed trees, so crews are going to have a tough time getting to places where trees have hit power lines.
The utility company cut power for customers south of Wall Street at 7 p.m. on Monday. The same thing was done in parts of Brooklyn. Deliberately cutting the power was necessary as it's more dangerous to have current flowing through equipment that gets flooded -- it can cause short circuits, fires, and other damage.
Con Edison has an outage map showing areas that are currently without power.
In New York City, the water has to be flushed out of the flooded areas first before power equipment can be checked to be sure it's safe to run current through. And the current to damaged equipment has to be shut down before repairs can be made.
Odds are, if your area is served by underground lines, the power should be back in four days; it will be a week or so for those served by telephone poles. But those timelines are approximate; a lot will depend on what the situation is locally. Anyplace there is standing water and downed power lines is dangerous; there have been 10 fatalities in New York City and Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a press conference that a few were the result of people stepping into puddles near live power lines.
While it's certainly inconvenient, there is also another logic to cutting the power in certain areas. When power is suddenly cut off in one part of the system, it increases the current flowing through other parts of the grid. That can overload the system causing more damage and an even wider power failure.
Another twist for some Manhattanites is losing the steam heat system. In New York, many buildings are heated by a system of steam pipes from a central plant. Con Edison had to shut down the system in some areas because if water hit the pipes, the temperature difference would weaken the metal, which could lead to explosions. The loss of the steam system means that some people will be without heat and hot water.
At about 8:30 p.m. last night a power plant explosion on the eastern shore of Manhattan was caught on video, though a Con Edison spokesperson said it wasn't clear whether it was caused by flooding or flying debris. After the explosion, power was out south of 39th street. The substation served about 250,000 people.
Photo, top: The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel floods after a tidal surge from Hurricane Sandy (Allison Joyce/Getty Images); bottom: Downed trees in lower Manhattan block streets (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis)