(Written by James Barron and Mihir Zaveri)
A power failure plunged a stretch of the West Side of Manhattan into darkness Saturday night, trapping thousands of people in subways and elevators for a time, leaving drivers to fend for themselves at intersections with no traffic signals and eerily dimming the lights of a swath of Times Square.
Stores emptied out, and Broadway shows did not go on: Most theaters canceled their performances. In restaurants and bars, people drank by the light of their smartphones.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, asked whether anything nefarious had happened, said Con Edison believed that the blackout was caused by a mechanical issue that could be resolved in a relatively short period of time.
Con Edison said that the power failed around 7 p.m. and that about 62,000 customers were in the dark, mainly on the West Side. The Fire Department said the failures stretched from 72nd Street to the West 40s, and from Fifth Avenue to the Hudson River.
Shortly after 10 p.m., Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, announced that six power sections had been knocked out and that two had already been restored.
He said Con Edison had told him that the other four would be restored in the next two hours.
Con Edison then confirmed that. “We’re estimating most customers will be restored at midnight,” the utility said.
The blackout happened on the same date that a massive power failure in 1977 plunged the city into darkness. (Now as then, Times Square — usually blindingly bright with crowds strolling to theaters — was dark, and traffic signals were out.)
At intersections, police officers and civilians worked together to direct traffic while firetrucks and ambulances screamed down side streets. Two young women posed for a selfie in the middle of 46th Street before an officer rushed over and chastised them, saying, “Ladies, this is not the time.”
A spokesman for Con Edison said the failures apparently stemmed from a problem at a substation on West 49th Street.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subways, said that “our entire system is affected” and that there was only limited service on the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 lines on the West Side; the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 lines on the East Side; and the No. 7 line between Manhattan and Queens.
The Fire Department said it had sent firefighters to a transformer blaze on West End Avenue in the West 60s, where Con Edison also has a facility. It did not say whether that fire was related to the power failure.
There was also “smoke in multiple buildings” on the West Side, the Fire Department said, and the department was answering “numerous” reports of people stuck in elevators.
With signals not working, men in shorts and T-shirts were directing traffic at the intersection of 10th Avenue and 47th Street. With no police officers in sight, one called out: “If you’re going to walk, walk now, people!”
Another yelled as pedestrians began to cross hesitantly: “Health and safety! Health and safety!”
Ellie Shanahan, 23, was on the A train between West 50th and 59th streets when the train stopped unexpectedly. She waited with the other passengers for nearly 20 minutes before an MTA worker announced that there was a power outage and that there would be no train service between 59th and 163rd streets.
Shanahan was on her way to visit her parents in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood. After evacuating the subway station, she said, she noticed police officers trying to monitor the frantic crowd at 50th Street.
She immediately got on a Citi Bike and rode it north to 125th Street.
What was the craziest, Shanahan said, was that there were no traffic lights. “I was in shock, but people still seemed to know what to do. Everyone was being polite even though there were no lights to tell us when to go.”
As she biked north on Broadway, Shanahan noticed restaurants emptying out and long bus lines. She saw people evacuating a pitch-black movie theater on West 66th Street.
Most Broadway shows — including “Moulin Rouge,” “Hadestown,” “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” and “Aladdin” — canceled their performances.
On the sidewalks outside the theaters, the casts staged impromptu outdoor shows. Performers from “Waitress” and “Come From Away” sang versions of songs from their shows, and actors from “Hadestown” improvised a blackout-themed song of one of its songs.
Carnegie Hall announced it was canceling all performances Saturday night. At Lincoln Center, a performance from the Mark Morris Dance Group was canceled, but outside, the Midsummer Night Swing band kept going.
At the Jennifer Lopez birthday-themed extravaganza at Madison Square Garden, the outage occurred during the fourth song. The lights had been shining and the bass thumping and the opening notes of “Dinero,” Lopez’s hit Latin pop song, had sounded. A crew of dancers was onstage.
Suddenly, the lights went dark, and the speakers fell silent. The only sound was a live drum set, still playing as dancers continued their routine.
It became quickly apparent that this was not part of the act when Lopez appeared onstage to no fanfare. She made her way to a platform that extended to the middle of the floor. She appeared to be speaking, gesturing for fans to stay put. But with her microphone out, her message could not be heard.
After a while, a backup generator kicked in, and the lights came up.
Minutes later, a high-pitched siren wailed, and the audience was told to leave.