By Maria Caspani and Robert MacMillan
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A blackout hit more than 40,000 customers in Manhattan on Saturday evening, plunging subway stations and shops into darkness and sending thousands of people into the streets after a transformer explosion on the Upper West Side, officials said.
A Reuters witness in the area reported hearing an explosion at about 7 p.m. (2300 GMT), and a New York City Fire Department spokesman said firefighters were on the scene of a transformer fire.
“Members are responding to reports of numerous stuck elevators that are occupied, but there are currently no patients reported,” the department said on Twitter.
The outage extended from Fifth Avenue west to the Hudson River, and from the west 40s north to 72nd Street, authorities said.
Sidewalks in Times Square (NYSE:) 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 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.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he was sending 100 State Police and some National Guard personnel 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, while there were reports of people trapped in building elevators without power.
The Con Edison [CENY.UL] utility said it was working to restore power to 42,000 customers and would provide updates as it got them.
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 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 and one, again, that sounds like it is addressable in a reasonable period of time,” de Blasio said.
Blackouts are part of New York City history, with nearly the entire city plunged into darkness for hours in August 2003. 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.
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.”
The city’s subway system said it was working with the utility and that the outage was affecting Midtown and the Upper West Side.
“Several stations are currently without power and are being bypassed by all trains,” it posted on Twitter.
“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.