Of course the other big New York City outages--the 2003 Northeast-Midwest blackout, the 1965 failure that affected seven northeastern states and Ontario, and even the city blackout of 1977 that led to some rioting and looting--were more widespread. But they arose from problems in the power system itself and were remedied, rather promptly, when those problems were addressed. This one, though limited to the lower part of Manhattan, was the result of a sucker punch delivered from without. Maybe that's one reason why the sight of the Wall Street area with its lights out (above) seems so sobering to those of us living here.
To be sure, the city and its employees have been doing a fine job of promptly fixing what can be readily fixed, while counseling patience with respect to the larger situation. Yesterday, twelve hours before the brunt of the storm reached the New Jersey coast, I woke up to find half a tree lying across my front lawn and stretching out into the street. This morning, the main body of the storm having passed, the whole street was blocked by a tree that had dropped across the intersection; tragically, at the height of the storm the night before, a young couple had died a block away when a tree fell on them. Under the circumstances I assumed it would be days or even weeks before the city got around to taking care of the tree in my front yard. Yet by mid-afternoon today some very efficient sanitation workers were feeding the branches into a dump truck.
That kind of experience, though reassuring, is also rather deceptive. Large parts of the city's indispensable subway system, two critically needed auto tunnels connecting Manhattan with New Jersey and Brooklyn, and the PATH rapid transit tunnels connecting lower Manhattan with New Jersey are all flooded, a combination of events unprecedented in not only in New York history but in U.S. history. While the Federal government is sending in U.S. Army Corp of Engineers specialists to help deal with the situation (10/29, 5:35 pm post), the experts in fact have no real experience with this kind of big-city flooding. Meanwhile, nspections will have to be done over a huge area to determine just what has to be done to get the lights back on. Presumably, a great deal of electrical and electronic equipment was ruined and will have to be replaced.
A dramatic explosion at a large transformer installation on the East River--a brilliantly bright flash being viewed on television and computer screens around the world--evidently was not the cause of the lower-Manhattan blackout. The root cause of the blackout, say Con Ed officials (10/30, 4:54 pm post), was flooding of a feeder cable hub. But that may be only the root cause. A great deal of ancillary damage may have to be dealt with before computers and communications will be working again.
At Ground Zero, where reconstruction of the Trade Center site has been at a crescendo in recent months, the image of water pouring back into newly laid foundations was a grim reminder that there is more than one way you can get punched in the gut.