“City That Never Sleeps” Falls Into Darkness As Power Cut Hits New York

Broadway musicals fell silent following a New York City blackout that left much of Manhattan without power.

The power failure struck just before 7 pm on a busy Saturday summer night (13 July), leaving more than 70,000 customers on a 30-block stretch from Times Square to 72nd Street and Broadway without electricity for more than three hours.

The entire New York City Subway system was hit by the outage. Four Manhattan stations were closed (Columbus Circle, Fifth Avenue at 53rd Street, Hudson Yards and the Rockefeller Center.

Limited services ran on the west and east sides and between Manhattan and Queens, but all routes experienced severe delays into the early hours of Sunday morning.

The outage affected many of the famous tourist traps that would have been particularly popular on a mild mid-summer Saturday.

Broadway shows cancelled. A Jennifer Lopez concert at Madison Square Garden evacuated after the fourth song of the night.

No advertisements scrolling across the iconic electronic screens in Times Square.

The Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall and Carnegie Hall all left in the dark. More than 200 traffic lights out of action.

The power cut came on the anniversary of the 1977 New York City power cut which left nine million people without electricity.

Greyscale landscape image of Manhattan, New York City
TOURIST TRAP: Manhattan is usually packed with revellers on a Saturday night, but the streets feel quiet during the blackout

Separating Fact From Fiction – What Caused The Blackout?

Speculation about the power cut threw up several possible causes. Early reports from electricity provider Con Edison attributed the outage to a minor mechanical failure.

Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo claimed an explosion and fire spread to other substations.

He also went on to describe the incident as “unacceptable”, issuing a statement that said: “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 that, it’s that simple at the end of the day.”

While New York Mayor Bill de Blasio suggested on social media that a manhole fire was to blame, before going on to clarify that the outage was due to a transformer fire.

He too expressed frustration at the events, lamenting: “The city that never sleeps can’t be left in the dark.”

The New York City Fire Department asserted a transformer fire at West 64th Street and West End Avenue was responsible.

Others even pointed to the hot summer as a contributing factor, hiking up energy demand as people cranked up their air conditioning.

However, Con Edison’s full technical report debunked all these wild theories. It revealed a “flawed connection” between sensors and protective relays at the substation on 65th Street caused the failure.

The company came to this conclusion having conducted “extensive testing of the equipment” and “reviewing 15 years of operating data”.

Other similar protective relays at other substations have been isolated and will be fully tested before being put back into service.

New York has experienced several high-profile historical power outages. These include the Northeastern USA & Canada blackout of 2003 and a similar widespread outage in 1965.

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