Officials: Terrorism, Cyber Attack, Power Demand Didn't Cause Blackout

July 14, 2019 - 9:30 pm

UPDATED: 9:09AM, July 15, 2019 

NEW YORK (WCBS 880/AP) — A power outage struck the heart of Manhattan Saturday—stranding passengers on subways, gridlocking drivers that had to navigate the streets without traffic lights and bringing the curtain down on Broadway shows—in a blackout for which the cause is still unknown.

"There's no answer, and that's a real problem," Gov. Cuomo told WCBS 880 on Sunday after meeting with Con Edison officials. "They have no answer and frankly I’m not interested in their answer. We’re going to do an independent investigation. We have some of the best power experts in the country in New York."

LISTEN LIVE: Continuing Coverage Of The Blackout On WCBS 880

Con Ed's electric business dates back to the 1880s and according to Cuomo, if the utility wants to keep operating in New York it better shape up. 

"Con Ed does not have a franchise granted by God," the governor said. "You can look through the Bible, you don't find anywhere Con Ed must provide New York's utility... We're getting to the point where Con Ed is going to have to deliver or we're going to have to find a different delivery mechanism."

Officials have ruled out terrorism, a cyber attack and high power demand as causes but said Sunday that Con Edison is still working to figure out what led to the massive outage. The officials said no injuries were reported in relation to the blackout.

The outage, which stretched 30 blocks from Times Square to the Upper West Side, left around 73,000 customers without power Saturday night for about four hours.

Con Edison CEO John McAvoy said a problem at a substation caused the 6:47 p.m. power failure. Electricity was restored to customers and businesses affected by the outage by around midnight, according to a statement from the utility.

PHOTOS: NYC Blackout 2019

McAvoy said the exact cause of the blackout would not be known until an investigation is completed.

At a news conference Sunday afternoon, Mayor Bill de Blasio said there were no injuries due to the blackout. He also said there was no evidence of any “nefarious activity.”

“This was not a cyber attack and this was not an act of physical terrorism,” de Blasio said.

He said Con Edison is still investigating the cause and that it may take weeks to determine exactly what happened.

“It will take time to make sure we get exactly right what happened here,” de Blasio said.

In a statement, Con Edison said it “sincerely regrets” the power disruption and that “our engineers and planners will carefully examine the data and equipment performance relating to this event, and will share our findings with regulators and the public.”

Con Ed President Timothy Cawley said the company thinks “the grid is very reliable” and that overload was not believed to be the cause.

“Demand last night was very low, so loading of equipment was not an issue at all,” Cawley said. “The event last night was not in any way correlated with high demands.”

Cawley said Con Edison there’s “incredible redundancy” in the power system and that “we could still serve the system on the hottest day of the year.”

He said the blackout has been linked to a substation on the West Side at 49th Street.

“A large transmission substation that is basically a ring that feeds out to these neighborhoods that were impacted, that substation, a large portion became deenergized,” Cawley said.

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the FDNY responded to more than 400 stuck elevators and that everyone was removed from those elevators safely.

Officials said the blackout affected 30th Street to 72nd Street and Fifth Avenue to the Hudson River.

The outage stymied subway service throughout the city, affecting nearly every line. New York City's Emergency Management Department said the A, C, D, E, F, M, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 trains had resumed running in both directions by around 2 a.m. Sunday.

Gov. Cuomo said no injuries were reported and praised emergency officials for their response to the blackout, which he called "unacceptable."

"You just can't have a power outage of this magnitude in this city" Cuomo said. "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."

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was campaigning on the presidential trail in Waterloo, Iowa, when the power outage struck. His press secretary, Freddi Goldstein, tweeted just before 10 p.m. that de Blasio cut short his Iowa visit and was headed back to the city.

NYC Blackout 2019
WCBS 880

The mayor commended New Yorkers for handling the blackout "with that trademark NYC grit and toughness" in a tweet.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday the Department of Energy's Office of Electricity should investigate the work being done by Con Edison to maintain and upgrade the city's power grid, an investigation he says could shed light on other national infrastructure issues.

The outage comes on the anniversary of the 1977 New York City outage that left most of the city without power.

Thousands of people crowded the streets Saturday evening, using their cellphones as flashlights while they tried to stay cool amid the humid July evening, where temperatures hit the low 80s.

Related: No Lights, Big City: Power Outage KOs Broadway, Times Square

NYC power outage
AP Photo/Michael Owens

For hours before the power flickered back on, doormen stood with flashlights in the darkened entrances of upscale apartment buildings along Central Park West, directing residents up flights of stairs. Police and deployed troopers directed traffic at intersections to the soundtrack of sirens and horns, while people in the neighborhood known as Hell's Kitchen took it upon themselves to guide traffic in the absence of stoplights and walking signals.

In the theater district, marquees darkened just before evening performances were set to begin. Most Broadway musicals and plays canceled their Saturday evening shows, though some cast members staged impromptu performances in the street.

Jennifer Lopez's concert at Madison Square Garden was cut short in the middle of her fourth song of the night, although officials at Penn Station below used backup generators to keep the lights on. Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts were all evacuated.

Lopez later tweeted that she would reschedule the stop on her "It's My Party" tour for Monday night at the same venue.

(© 2019 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report)