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Electricity Restored To Lower Manhattan After Transformer Fire

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TWC News: Electricity Restored To Lower Manhattan After Transformer Fire
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Electricity has been restored to more than 50,000 Lower Manhattan residents who were without power for up to eight hours on Saturday, after a transformer fire broke out at an East Village utility plant.

Con Edison is still trying to determine what sparked a loud explosion and ensuing fire at 12:40 p.m. at an electric plant on 14th Street, between Avenue C and Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive. Burning oil spewed thick, black smoke into the air that could be seen as far as Brooklyn.

No one was injured in the fire, but the blaze left thousands on the western half of Lower Manhattan, south of 14th Street and west of Broadway, without power — or air conditioning — on a day that saw temperatures hover around the 80s. The power outage also halted subway service in the area.

Cooling centers were opened to help residents cope with the heat, and hundreds of police officers were deployed for extra security and to direct traffic at the light-less intersections. The buildings closest to the plant had been evacuated and surrounding streets were closed off as firefighters took a little over an hour to bring the fire under control and cut off the plume of smoke.

But it took more than 200 Con Ed employees the rest of the day to make repairs and get backup systems online. All power to the subway and affected buildings was restored by Saturday night, shortly after 8:30 p.m., with the help of back-up systems.

“There has to be a lot redundancy built in,” said Con Edison Vice President Lou Rana. “In other words, if certain components fail, other components then can pick up the slack, if you will, number one. Number two, there is extra reserve built in to our substations and cable systems. So even though there was a major fire, we were able to isolate the damaged equipment.”

But the backup measures will be tested with the start of the workweek Monday morning when electricity demand jumps in the office-dominated area. A hazy, hot and humid forecast with temperatures in the 90s could make it even more of a challenge, and Con Ed is requesting that customers conserve power as much as possible.

As with many incidents in the city since September 11, the loud explosion prompted immediate thoughts about terrorism from many within earshot, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg assured city residents that the fire was not suspicious in nature.

“There’s no evidence that this is anything other than the kind of accident you wouldn’t have thought twice about before September 11,” the mayor said, adding that air quality tests did not find harmful levels of contaminants from the burning oil.

After those initial fears subsided, most people in the area seemed to take the outage in stride.

“I think everybody made a big deal of it, and it wasn’t such a big deal,” said one woman after the lights came back on. “I think that New Yorkers are pretty tough.”

Many restaurants and stores, though, lost a day of business.

“A lot of our guests that made reservations for dinner this evening, we had to turn them away because of the power outage,” said a worker at one Downtown restaurant. “A lot of the food in our refrigerators had to be thrown out. So it really cut into our business this evening.” ClientIP:, UserAgent: CCBot/2.0 ( Profile: TWCSAMLSP