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A Weary New York Regains Its Pulse

A sense of adventure dominates, with electricity returning in fits and starts.

August 16, 2003|Elizabeth Jensen, Valerie Reitman and John J. Goldman | Times Staff Writers

NEW YORK — Lights flickered on, air conditioners droned back to life and a surge of neon jolted Times Square's mammoth news tickers on Friday. But Manhattan's electricity revived fitfully, leaving thousands of power-deprived residents still camping outdoors and bracing for a long, hot weekend.

After enduring a peaceful night, New York awoke as a city divided, checker-boarded between neighborhoods with restored utility lines and thus newly vibrant and still-darkened sections where basic city life remained stunted.

By day's end, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and other officials said that nearly 85% of the city was functioning again, but stretches of Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx were still coping without electricity. Most big stores in the city remained closed, but on Broadway, theaters went on with the show.

Power crews had worked all night to "bring back the system and are doing it carefully. Line by line, they are restoring the generating capacity," said Bloomberg, who praised residents for not succumbing to the blackout-inspired looting that ravaged the city in 1977.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday August 19, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Blackout -- An article Saturday in Section A about the Northeast electrical outage included an incorrect location for New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. The airport is in Queens, not Brooklyn.

Crime was down, as police fielded a full emergency force of 9,800 officers. There was only one incident of looting, said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. But police and firefighters stayed busy all night freeing people trapped in 800 jammed elevators. Burning candles caused as many as 60 fires overnight, Bloomberg reported.

Air carriers were still grounded, subways were idled and frozen electric locks forced some downtown hotels to set up makeshift beds on the street for exhausted guests. But by midday, large swaths of the city's west side and northern neighborhoods were already exulting in their restored power, strolling to farmer's markets and cafes and restocking refrigerators.

Soon after apartment and shop lights blinked on at 10 a.m. on First Avenue, Susan Maisy, a pediatrician, detected a cool stream of air wafting out from the open doors of a local eatery. It was the welcome blast of an air-conditioner.

"I knew it was going to happen in the next few hours," Maisy said. "I'm glad it's over."

In Lower Manhattan, residents were foraging through hushed neighborhoods in search of food, water, newspapers -- anything to give their interrupted lives the feeling of normality.

"Don't you wish we were back in the 1950s, when everything worked?" shop owner Bobby Mastronicola said with a sigh as he scouted the few stores open in TriBeCa, searching in vain for gas to power a generator.

For some New Yorkers, the simple ability to warm coffee was a prized feat. Suwei Chang became an instant neighborhood hero by appearing on the front steps of his apartment house with a portable burner, a pot of water and aromatic grounds. He dipped a porous bag of coffee into the boiling water and dispensed it to grateful neighbors.

"I go camping a lot," he explained.

At La Guardia and Kennedy airports in the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn, respectively, unshaven, rumpled travelers racked out on floors and benches. Above them, flight-information screens were reduced to blank slates. Hundreds of flights were delayed or canceled again on Friday, and a large section of La Guardia was completely without power. Highways leading in and out of the city were still clotted with cars. And many vehicles remained stuck inside Manhattan parking garages where auto elevators failed to work.

Back in the borough of Manhattan, at restaurants still shuttered by lack of power, owners and cooks tried to save perishables and dispose of wares already spoiled. At Morgan's, a TriBeCa grocery where owner Jeff Yi dispensed food on credit, the sour odor of bad milk and melted ice cream radiated from dark refrigerator shelves.

At Rocco's restaurant on 22nd Street, workers filled dumpsters with 25 garbage bags stuffed with rotted food. Other restaurants tried to keep ahead of spoilage by selling what was still useable at rock-bottom prices. A Subway sandwich shop at 23rd and Madison held a "Blackout Blowout" sale, unloading hoagies at half price.

Bloomberg said he was "surprised the blackout has lasted so long." He said he had awakened at 2 a.m., hoping the power was on. But "my little electric clock had nothing showing," he said.

Consolidated Edison officials believed they would bring electricity online much faster, Bloomberg said. But the troubled electricity grid outside of the city was still too fragmented to be able to aid New York's beleaguered power plants. "Getting help from them took a lot longer than Con Ed had thought," the mayor said.

Gov. George E. Pataki said energy officials were cautious about moving too quickly in restoring power, fearing that a surge in demand could set off rolling blackouts.

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