Manhole Blasts Hit Heights, Causing Power Losses on Hottest Day

By Mary Frost
And Raanan Geberer

Con Edison was kept hopping Thursday and Friday as power outages took place in Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, Bay Ridge, Williamsburg, Midwood and other neighborhoods, as well as in Queens and Staten Island.

Brooklyn Heights was rocked with two major power-related incidents late Thursday and early Friday when an underground high-voltage electrical feeder blew on Henry Street in the north Heights, followed a few hours later by a manhole explosion on Hicks Street, also in the north Heights.

The Henry Street explosion took place around 7:15 p.m. in front of 60 Henry Street just off Cranberry Street, not far from the corner Wine Bar which was filled with customers. Firefighters from the Middagh Street station responded within minutes and a crew from Con Ed worked through the night.

At roughly 1 a.m. a manhole exploded in front of 130 Hicks Street, depriving an entire block of Hicks from Love Lane to Clark Street of power. The explosion left nearly 500 customers (meaning 500 electricity meters) in the dark on the hottest night of the year so far. At 9 a.m. Friday morning the Con Ed trucks still lined the street, with work going on in three separate manholes.

“I came home around 1:30 in the morning,” Art Karpe, a Hicks Street resident, told this newspaper. “The whole block was black. The Fire Department was here and several utilities. I saw a lot of smoke. People were hanging out the windows at 130 Hicks and I thought the building was on fire. They were calling down to the firemen. They were right here, I have to say that for them. They said it would be a couple more hours.

“I went upstairs and tried to turn on the lights — you just don’t realize it until it’s gone.”

Another Hicks Street resident said she saw fire shooting out of the manhole in front of 130 Hicks. “They replaced the cable and are testing to see if the remaining cables are good,” she said. Con Ed spokesperson Philip Halliburton confirmed that this would be the normal procedure.

By Friday afternoon Con Ed reported continuing outages, with power still out in parts of Bay Ridge, Williamsburg, Sunset Park and other neighborhoods.

Among the areas with the highest number of reported outages were Gerritsen Beach, with 42 customers without service; Utica Avenue near Kings Highway, with 12 customers out; Avenue N near the Q subway, with three customers out; an area near Flushing Avenue in Williamsburg, with 21 customers out; and Willoughby and Jay streets near the Fulton Mall with seven customers out.

Earlier reports had listed more than 1,300 customers out in Williamsburg

“Customers” does not necessarily refer to one user, apartment or family — it can refer to an entire building, as long as electricity comes into that building via one meter. Thus, a large apartment house with 50 apartments is still recorded by Con Ed as “one customer.”

Con Ed was also working in the ground on Joralemon Street in Brooklyn Heights, the site of several previous manhole explosions.

The utility decreased power to Central Harlem and parts of Staten Island, but not to Brooklyn.
During prolonged heat spells, one Con Ed spokesman said, the dynamic is the opposite of what happens during storms. During storms, areas with overhead electric wires, mostly on the outskirts of the city, are the most vulnerable. During heat spells, areas with underground cables are most vulnerable because these cables are likely to heat up and cause explosions. Thankfully, most neighborhoods have redundant electric cables, he said.

As far as health problems are concerned, Zippi Dvash of SUNY Downstate Medical Center said that no heat-related cases were seen at the main Downstate Campus in East Flatbush. At the hospital’s LICH campus in Cobble Hill, five people reporting heat-related illnesses, two of whom required admission, were seen.

One of the two, she said, was a heat-stroke case with alarmingly high temperature admitted to the Intensive Care Unit.

Also on Friday, Mayor Bloomberg ordered that city pools and beaches be open with lifeguards for extended hours. In Brooklyn, despite last week’s Manhattan sewage plant accident, all beaches were deemed to be safe except for the small beach at Sea Gate at the western end of Coney Island.

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