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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Workers Hurry To Get Power Back Up

Aired August 14, 2003 - 19:34   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Now, officials here in Washington, in New York state, other areas affected, in a race not only to answer the questions of how this happened but also in a race to get the power back up and running. You see these live pictures from New York City. Still daylight. That time of daylight is lapsing quickly.
Among those tracking this story for us, Maria Hinojosa in New York, who happens to be at this moment at a Con Ed plant in New York City -- Maria.

MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, actually, I'm at central headquarters of Con Edison. This is where all of the executives, all of the engineers, all of the crews are based. And of course, they, too, are on a minimal backup system. So they say that right now, what they have is just some lights along the stairs and minimal lighting in the offices.

And it's in these offices where they are now trying to determine when they will send out these crews to start working on these substations, to start bringing power back little by little. You have a lot of Con Ed workers sitting in front of the Con Ed headquarters here. Some of the women have taken off their shoes, who have arrived here. They have been walking for many, many blocks to get here. They have told us, at this point, that they have no time estimate for when the power will return into New York City, and that at this point, all they're doing is waiting to send out these crews.

They have also said, as Governor Pataki said minutes ago, that people, when they do get back to their homes, should be turning off all electrical appliances because what they're saying is that when they can begin to restore power, they have to do it slowly and deliberately so as to -- so as to not bust out the system, essentially. They said they have to do a step-by-step process to reenergize the transmission lines, and at each step, will then feed energy into these substations. They have to do it carefully and deliberately.

They did say that they do have emergency plans in place, but because this was an outage that wasn't expected, it kind of took them by surprise and then they went into an emergency drill. They say that they have these emergency drills in place and operational.

And one final thing, that when electricity does come back, when this does come back, it's going to take several hours to get the city back up and operating. It's not as if you flip a switch and suddenly things can go on. It has to go very slowly. They didn't want to use the word "slowly." They said, It's not that we're acting slowly, but we have to be very careful so as we don't to overload the system.

Again, John, there had been some earlier reports about a fire at the main transmission center here. There was no fire there. So that is something that needs to be cleared up. There was no fire at the main center there on 14th Street.

And just some color here, John. We have seen some -- as we were driving down here, one of the parks where there's a fountain. There are lots of people who have taken off their shoes. They have their feet in the water, resting their feet. As I said, a lot of women who have taken off their high heels. I'm seeing them walking in their stocking feet. A lot of people starting to get hungry. There are restaurants that are open. In fact, one right across the street from the Con Ed headquarters. But there's no food because they can't operate their ovens. So people are mostly drinking beer, wine, smoking, having salads. Salads can stay cool up until, you know, they start getting damaged because of the lack of electricity. Long, long, long, long line, John, for the Haagen Dazs (UNINTELLIGIBLE) That was the longest that line we've seen so far was up for the Haagen Dazs.

So it seems right now that most of the mood on the street very calm. Even the traffic has seemed to have slowed down. There was a time when there was a lot of backup of the cars. We're not seeing that right now. It really is -- it seems very calm.

There is a question, of course, of memories of 1977, which was the largest blackout in New York City, when there was a lot of problems with looting. The mayor has said that they have gone into emergency mode, where the local precincts basically take control of their precinct areas, and that there will be police out, of course. But where the police haven't been, in terms of directing traffic, John, well, there have been New Yorkers who have stepped up to the plate, taken it upon themselves to just kind of stand there and help guide people through the traffic, as a lot of pedestrians are trying to figure out because, of course, there are no traffic lights that are operating.

And the earlier tension that had been felt on the streets when this happened just about 4:14 this afternoon, that kind of tension of not knowing what was happening, the concern about terrorism, as word as spread that it appears that this may not be terrorist-related, it seems that that has helped calm people a lot.

So at least here in front of Con Ed central, we're waiting for another update soon, as they work by flashlight to try to figure out where they send their crews and their engineers to start getting the power back into New York City little by little -- John.

KING: Maria Hinojosa at the Con Ed headquarters in New York. We will check back with you as those workers, flashlights and all, go about their urgent task, for any later updates.

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