In "Blackout City" - a quieter, emptier version of Manhattan

Wed Oct 31, 2012 5:06pm EDT
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By Emily Flitter

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The residents and business owners of lower Manhattan who have lost their electricity this week are beginning to adjust to life in an unfamiliar place: "Blackout City."

It is a largely quiet place, empty of the crowds that would normally gather to shop, eat, and work there, patrolled by slow-moving police cars with flashing lights and peopled by the lonely bicyclist or dog-walker.

Cars pause at most small intersections and line up to cross the large avenues where a steady stream of traffic moves, unbroken by any lights. There is plenty of parking, because few people want to hang around.

Inside as well as out, it is a chilly place. Hot showers and cable TV are a dream for people living in darkened apartments, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and canned beans. "Blackout City" dwellers are unable to connect with their friends and relatives elsewhere, as the power outage has cut most cell phone reception.

Most important to the restaurants and grocery stores was the food that would soon begin to spoil in idle refrigerators.

"We're about to buy a couple of grills and start cooking food and giving it away," said Shane McBride, chef for the tony SoHo restaurant Balthazar as he directed staff on the sidewalk outside. "But our first priority is to get everything clean."

Like nearly all businesses and homes in the lower part of Manhattan island, Balthazar lost power late on Monday after damage from the giant storm Sandy triggered an explosion in a Consolidated Edison power station on 14th Street. The power company has said it could take four days to restore electricity to the area.

The storm, which killed 64 people, knocked out power for millions and crippled transportation systems along the U.S. East Coast, left a foot of water in Balthazar's basement, which McBride and his crew were in the process of cleaning out. He said the roughly $70,000 worth of food in the freezers was still good because of dry ice, but time was running out.   Continued...

A largely unlit downtown Manhattan stands under a night sky due to a power blackout caused by Hurricane Sandy in New York October 30, 2012.REUTERS/Andrew Kelly