Transformer explosion knocks out power, lights up sky in NYC

by Bamidele Ogunberu Posted on December 28th, 2018

New York City, USA: A transformer explosion at an electrical plant set the skies above New York City ablaze in an eerie, pulsing blue light Thursday night, causing scattered power outages, delaying flights and sparking a social media storm of jokes about an alien invasion.

The blast prompted a brief fire at a sprawling Con Edison facility in Queens — but no injuries — and a spectacular illumination of the New York skyline that generated a flurry of online commentary.

The explosion impacted subway service in the area and caused a brief ground stop at LaGuardia Airport, which experienced power outages.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo described a “major electrical failure” at the electrical substation along the East River, near the Rikers Island prison complex and across a small bay from LaGuardia.

Power had been largely restored to LaGuardia by 11 p.m. and the airport was resuming normal operations. Travellers were still asked to check with their carriers for updated flight information.

The lights caused a stir on social media as several witnesses posted photographs and videos of a bright, blue flash that filled the night’s sky. The Manhattan skyline and iconic East River bridges were suddenly silhouetted against a backdrop of pulsating light.

People flocked to social media to find out what happened and to share their views of the plumes of smoke pouring from the transformer.

“It was pitch black outside and then suddenly the whole side of the eastern sky was lighting up and changing colours,” said Madeleine Frank Reeves, who saw the lights from her Upper West Side apartment. “It lasted a couple of minutes.”

Some observers wondered whether aliens were invading and joked that the trend of gender reveal parties had finally gone too far. Television host Keith Olbermann referred to the episode as the “Blue Light Special.”

“Something insane is happening in the sky above Manhattan right now,” New York University sociologist Eric Klineberg wrote on Twitter under a video of the flashing sky.

Something insane is happening in the sky above Manhattan right now. — Eric Klinenberg (@EricKlinenberg) December 28, 2018

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s spokesman Eric Phillips tweeted that the lights were attributable to a “blown transformer.”

“Not aliens,” Phillips tweeted.

*Not* aliens. Blown transformer at Queens Con-Ed facility. Scattered power outages, including LGA. Con-Ed, FDNY, PD, OEM all working on it. — Eric Phillips (@EricFPhillips) December 28, 2018

Confirming incident in #Astoria was result of transformer explosion. No injuries, no fire, no evidence of extraterrestrial activity. Please continue to follow @FDNY and @Conedison — NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) December 28, 2018

John Tebbett, who lives two blocks away from the facility, told NY1 the explosion was followed for about five minutes by a loud roar. The blast had caused the lights in his home to flicker off and on, he said. Tebbett, an instructor with the local electrical union, walked down toward the facility to get a better look.

“You could hear the roar and see the super white, bright light,” Tebbett said. “It took them about five minutes, maybe. As we were watching it, it was like somebody turned off the power and it just went dark and then it was quiet. The roar stopped and it was dead quiet for a moment and then you could hear the emergency vehicles start to come in.”

It was the second major incident involving Con Edison in the last six months. In July, a steam pipe explosion spewed asbestos-laden vapour into the air in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, driving hundreds of people from their homes and businesses.

Con Edison said on Twitter that there was “a brief electrical fire at our substation in Astoria which involved some electrical transformers and caused a transmission dip in the area.”

There was a brief electrical fire at our substation on 20th Avenue & 32nd Street in Astoria this evening, which caused a transmission dip in the area. All power lines serving the area are in service and the system is stable. Photo: Michael Friedl, New York Times — Con Edison (@ConEdison) December 28, 2018

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