By Maria Caspani and Robert MacMillan
NEWYORK (Reuters) – A wide swath of New York’s Manhattan borough was plunged into darkness Saturday following a transformer explosion, knocking out power to subways, stores and Broadway theatres, but the city’s main utility began restoring power several hours later.
No deaths or injuries were reported due to the blackout, which officials said began at 6:47 p.m. EDT (2247 GMT), and darkened a stretch of the city from West 42nd Street to West 72nd Street, 42 years to the day from a major 1970s blackout that sparked rioting and looting.
“We are proceeding on a path to restore all customers, hopefully, by midnight tonight,” John McAvoy, chief executive of utility Con Edison told a news conference. More than 70,000 homes and businesses lost power, officials said.
Shouts of celebration could be heard in parts of Manhattan as power was restored, bringing lights and air conditioners back to life.
The cause of the outage was unclear, McAvoy said, adding “it does not appear related to excessive load.”
A Reuters witness in the area reported hearing an explosion around 7 p.m. (2300 GMT), and a city Fire Department spokesman said firefighters were on the scene of a transformer fire.
Sidewalks in Times Square that are usually crowded with tourists on a balmy summer Saturday night were overflowing as at least some Broadway theatres cancelled performances. The lights of nearby Radio City Music Hall were dark.
In an attempt to cheer customers, the cast from the musical “Come From Away” performed a song in front of the stage door. “Hadestown” cast members also staged a street-side performance.
With traffic lights out, cars and taxis jammed intersections as emergency vehicles and fire engines with sirens blaring tried to pass. In some places, civilians stepped in to direct traffic.
New York has endured large-scale blackouts before, most recently following Superstorm Sandy in 2012 as well as the widespread 2003 blackout across the U.S. Northeast that left most of the city without power for a day.
Saturday’s outage occurred on the 42nd anniversary of a New York blackout that crippled the city during a heat wave on July 13, 1977. Power was not restored until the next day.
Memories of rioting, looting and violence during the 1977 blackout spooked some tourists visiting the city, including Dave and Dara Campbell, of Gilbert, Arizona.
“People from home were texting us, asking, ‘Are you OK?’” said Dara Campbell, 40.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo said he was sending 100 State Police officers and some National Guard troops to the city to help with traffic control.
As darkness fell just before 9 p.m. (0100 GMT), people on the Upper West Side had to use their mobile phone flashlights to negotiate normally brightly lit streets. There were reports of people trapped in building elevators without power.
Subways throughout the city were affected by the outage, with some lines skipping stations that lacked power and even lines in other boroughs diverted.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson wrote on Twitter that the ConEd substation on the West Side had a “major disturbance” and that the utility was working on fixing it.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was in Iowa campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination when the outage struck, told CNN said he had spoken with the police commissioner and the deputy commissioner responsible for counterterrorism.
“From what we’re seeing at this moment, this is simply a mechanical problem,” de Blasio said.
Emerging from a subway station next to Central Park, Jeff O’Malley, a consultant who lives in Manhattan, said he was stuck in a subway car for more than an hour.
“We were stuck for about 75 minutes,” said O’Malley, 57. “It’s completely dark. People had to use the flashlights on their phones to see their way out.”
“People were having fun at first when the lights went out; it was something different,” said the manager on duty at the Oxbow Tavern on Columbus Avenue and 71st Street, who declined to give his name.
With some stations and traffic lights dark, many residents and visitors alike took to the streets and walked, according to social media posts, many of which had the hashtag #blackoutnyc.
(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Robert MacMillan and Daniel Wallis, additional reporting by Frank McGurty and Conway Gittens in New York, David Morgan in Washington, writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Andrea Ricci)