NEW YORK (Reuters) - A power outage struck Manhattan’s wealthy Upper East Side during a heat wave on Wednesday, snarling subway service during rush hour in another embarrassment for utility Con Edison.
The outage left half a million New Yorkers without power for 50 minutes. Traffic signals died, classrooms went dark, the fire department rescued people from elevators and the Metropolitan Museum of Art was evacuated in scenes that raised fears of another major summer blackout.
Grumpy New Yorkers recalled epic blackouts of the past on the second humid day in a row of temperatures topping 90 degrees F (32 C).
Consolidated Edison Inc. said some 136,700 customers were without electricity in the Upper East Side and in the Bronx, including the neighborhood around Yankee Stadium, after a transmission disturbance. It was investigating the cause.
Typically, each customer accounts for a home of at least three people, meaning some half a million New Yorkers were without power. Con Edison provides power service to 3.2 million customers in New York City and surrounding areas.
The incident is likely to raise more tough questions from New York officials of the quality of Con Edison’s service.
Last year, parts of the New York borough of Queens went without electricity for more than a week, leading to public hearings and political pressure on the firm, which is regulated because it is a natural monopoly in its areas of service.
Subway lines were back running on Wednesday after a short delay but with massive delays as commuters tried to get home.
“Con Ed assured us this would not happen again. I’m going to go upstairs and get a bus or a taxi,” said Elaine Ashworth, an insurance agent waiting for a subway at Grand Central station.
At Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall station, transit officials were shouting at “No more 4 or 6 uptown or downtown service” while frazzled commuters stood sweating and confused.
“It is horrible because today it is 91 degrees. New Yorkers never get used to it, even though this is not the first time,” said John Ciavarello, 60, trying to get home to the Bronx.
A woman on 42nd Street in Midtown Manhattan shouted to passersby, “It’s blackout 2007, I’m telling you it’s blackout 2007.”
When the electricity went out, the underground railway’s traffic signals went black, causing delays that backed up even once power was resumed.
Weekday subway ridership averages about 4.9 million passengers, making it the world’s third-busiest metro system behind Tokyo and Moscow.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art on the east side of Central Park lost power and was evacuated, the museum said.
Students had an unusual last day of school before the summer break.
“We’re just sitting here waiting for the power to come back on so we can finish our work,” Kelly Valdmanis, a teacher at Public School 6, said during the outage.
On August 14, 2003, New York City and much of the Northeast and parts of the Midwest suffered a blackout that affected 50 million people. It was widely seen as the worst blackout in North American history.
That outage stranded hundreds of thousands of commuters and trapped subway riders underground in New York City, where thousands of people spent a hot night sleeping on sidewalks or walking miles in the darkness to reach their homes.