Saturday, August 27, 2011

Power Substations in Manhattan Are Seen as Vulnerable to Flooding, Officials Say

New York Times

A slice of Manhattan’s southeastern tip may be especially vulnerable to a loss of electricity from Hurricane Irene, Consolidated Edison said Saturday, and officials at the public utility said it could be forced to pre-emptively shut off power in low-lying parts of New York City. 

Some substations along the waterline of Lower Manhattan could be susceptible to severe flooding if the Hudson and East Rivers rise significantly because of the storm, said Chris Olert, a Con Edison spokesman.
If shut down, the substation — core power grids similar to the circuit panel in a home — would leave more than 6,000 buildings without power in an area south of the Brooklyn Bridge and east of lower Broadway, bounded by the East River, Mr. Olert said.
The affected customers might include large office buildings, including some banks, and apartment houses. In the worst-case situation, Con Ed workers could take two to three days to restore power, raising the possibility that the city’s financial sector would find it difficult to resume business on Monday.
The utility acknowledged that a fierce flood of storm water, particularly if aligned with high tide, would force workers to shut down power stations in low-lying parts of the city. Officials said that no decision was expected until early Sunday.
In a news conference, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg warned of the specter of an electrical shutdown in the utility’s vulnerable districts. “It’s conceivable that in downtown Manhattan, for example, there will be no electricity, as well as a lot of water in the streets,” he said.
A shutdown in Manhattan, where the company’s cables and pipes mostly run beneath the streets, would prevent more severe damage to electrical circuits and allow power to be restored more quickly once the storm passes. Still, while the utility was monitoring water levels in Lower Manhattan, officials said they were more concerned about damage to the overhead electrical wires that provide power to Staten Island and parts of the Bronx, Queens and Westchester County.
By Saturday afternoon, Con Ed officials said they had seen no sign of strains to the city’s electrical grid. But the utility did act to shut off steam from 10 miles of its 110-mile underground steam system in Manhattan. Some 50 customers south of 14th Street, including offices, banks and some public housing complexes, would lose hot water as a result.
More than 400 backup crews from states as far as Colorado and Texas traveled to New York to assist Con Edison. About 1,700 of the utility’s workers are on hand over the weekend to assess and repair damage.
The utility has sandbagged some of its low-lying properties and is using security cameras to check on water levels around the ring of Lower Manhattan.
Reporting for the hurricane coverage was contributed by Matt Flegenheimer, Christine Haughney, Thomas Kaplan, Anna M. Phillips, Liz Robbins, Noah Rosenberg, Fernanda Santos and Tim Stelloh.

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