New Yorkers Lash Out After 10-Day Blackout Ends

By Pat Milton | July 28, 2006

As electricity began to flow for the last victims of a 10-day blackout, some New York residents and business owners lashed out at city and utility officials for damage inflicted by the outage.

“This store went through the Depression, through the World War, through 9/11,” said Charles Marino, whose family-owned fish market opened in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens in 1932. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

At the height of the Queens outage, about 100,000 people were without power. On Wednesday morning, the last of the angry Consolidated Edison customers had their electricity restored, although utility spokeswoman Joy Faber warned that they could still experience low voltage and occasional outages.

On Wednesday afternoon, several thousand Con Ed customers in Staten Island lost power because of downed cables, but all were restored within hours.

Marino’s business, Marino & Sons Fish Market, was without power for about four days, then restocked its merchandise Monday morning after partial power returned over the weekend. On Tuesday, the power went out again.

“I’m probably going to go broke,” said Marino, the fourth generation of his family to run the business. “I’ve lost more than $100,000 of equipment and product. I’ve been out here my whole life, and this should be declared a disaster area.”

The outage took place during some of the hottest days of the year, and estimated business losses in Queens climbed into the millions of dollars.

Among those who went without lights, air conditioning and refrigeration in Queens was Christos Padadopoulos, whose family lost much of its food due to the blackout.

“I’m angry with the mayor and Con Ed,” he said Wednesday. “I also got a fever and almost fainted it was so hot.”

While Queens residents flipped their air conditioners back on, power went out for about 60,000 people on Staten Island around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had been criticized by Queens residents for downplaying their plight in the early days of their blackout and for praising Con Ed’s performance, rushed to Staten Island to hold a press conference and assure people their lights would be back on shortly.

Full power was restored around 10 p.m., Con Ed said, blaming the problem on downed overhead feeder cables.

The state Public Service Commission said it planned a full investigation of the Queens blackouts, including four public hearings Aug. 9-10.

“I have directed staff to meticulously go through the events of last week to determine whether the company’s actions and response were appropriate,” said William Flynn, chairman of the agency responsible for overseeing New York’s utilities.

State and local politicians have already lashed out at Con Ed for its early underestimation of the number of people affected.

On Friday, the utility revealed that the Queens blackout was 10 times worse than it originally reported. It said it was able to more quickly assess the condition in Staten Island because that borough has more aboveground cables, which are easier to access and fix.

Con Ed has promised to deliver a report on the Queens blackout within two weeks.

The first lawsuit against Con Ed was filed Tuesday by a Queens woman who claimed she couldn’t contact a doctor after her 2-year-old fell ill during the blackout. Sandra Boyle seeks unspecified damages for emotional and physical distress.

Utility spokesman Chris Olert would not comment on the lawsuit.

He said the blackout could have been shortened if Con Ed managers had decided to temporarily shut down the area’s network. That would have cut the power to a much larger swath of Queens, but it would have prevented further damage and made it easier to bring all customers back on line more quickly.

Con Ed officials defended the decision not to shut down the network.

Associated Press writers Sara Kugler, Colleen Long and Samantha Gross contributed to this report.

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