Hey, who turned the lights out?


Power has been trickling back into the Riverdale/Kingsbridge area after superstorm Sandy left thousands in the dark, and many of them in the cold, for the better part of a week. 

As of press time, 4,685 of the 5,100 customers in Riverdale, Kingsbridge, Kingsbridge Heights and Van Cortlandt Village who lost power between Oct. 29 and Oct. 30 had their power restored but 315 were still waiting for Con Edison to put them back on the grid.

About 33,315 of the 38,000 customers initially left without power in the Bronx had it restored.

When outlets first ran dry, Cindy Hirsch said she watched in awe as transformers blew up over the Hudson River from her Spuyten Duyvil balcony overlooking New Jersey.

“It was the most gorgeous fireworks we’ve ever seen. It was light green and blue everywhere. I knew something terrible was happening,” said Ms. Hirsch, a scientist at the New York Botanical Garden. 

She was right. As Sandy stormed through the Northwest Bronx, dragging trees across electrical wires and triggering transformers to blow off sparks, more than 900 customers in North Riverdale were left without power. 

Near the corner of West 261st Street and Riverdale Avenue more than 530 customers endured electrical outages. Near West 234th Street and Corlear Avenue, about 530 customers went dark. The same number  fizzled along Palisade Avenue in Spuyten Duyvil and nearly 900 customers were off the grid in swaths of Kingsbridge, particularly near Bailey Avenue, according to the Con Edison power outage map.

North Riverdale and parts of Fieldston were desolate, as many blocks were shrouded in complete darkness. Kingsbridge without streetlights was an eerie contrast to its usual bustling brightness. 

Blackouts left traffic lights inoperable at the corner of Bailey Avenue and West 231st Street, at the intersection of West 231st Street and Riverdale Avenue and near Riverdale Avenue and West 261st Street. 

People initially described candle-lit dinners and flashlight games as a welcome charm. 

Carrie Ruzal-Shapiro said the lack of heat in her Fieldston home didn’t seem so bad with her cat snuggled up beside her. She happily dined on peanut butter and jelly, nuts, raisins and tea by the light of Hannukah menorahs on Nov. 1.

“It’s festive,” she said.

But frustration grew along with the gas lines that made it difficult for residents to escape their cold, dark homes.  

People threw away groceries, lost revenue from freelance jobs and grew impatient for hot showers and electricity, especially as the temperature dropped over the weekend.

After soup at the Y’s warm center on Sunday, Margaret Baker, 87, said she’d taken to cleaning herself with baby wipes because she lost hot water and heat in her Spuyten Duyvil home.

“I hate to go home because, listen, it’s a long night. And I’m by myself,” she said. 

By late last week, residents became frustrated with the amount of information they weren’t receiving. 

Tommy from North Riverdale, who would not give his last name, called The Press hoping for answers.

“It’s been five days,” he said. “Nobody comes around to tell us anything.”

“You really don’t have any representation here,” he said.

On Nov. 1, an electric wire still hung down along West 231st Street toward Riverdale Avenue, where traffic lights were out.

Tom Maguire, who lives on West 261st Street near Spencer Avenue, shot pictures of a power line sagging across West 261st Street on the afternoon of Nov. 2. The wires appeared tangled in trees on either side of the block.

Frank Capolino said a tree that blocked traffic on Fieldston Road between West 261st and West 262nd streets was not cleared until the morning of Nov. 2. 

“First Con Ed came, then the FDNY, then Parks,” he said. “I mean nobody knew who was supposed to clean it up. Finally this morning the police did it.”

On Monday, a Con Edison worker guarded a downed power line at West 244th Street and Tibbett Avenue while another remained roped off near the corner of Grosvenor Avenue and West 246th Street, along with the tree that brought the line down. 

As restored electricity beckoned families home, many described routine chores like showering, stocking refrigerators with groceries and catching up on the news with fervor.

“The first thing we’ll do is take a very nice, long, thorough shower and really scrub hard. Actually, I take that back, probably the first thing we’ll do is really clean out the refrigerator and freezer,” said Curt Johnson, a Spuyten Duyvil resident, who spent four nights in temporary housing at Columbia University, where his wife works.

After a week of boiling water for baths, spending liberally on batteries and candles and dining on canned goods and take out, many caustically questioned why Con Ed hadn’t buried electrical wires in the Bronx. 

“It’s 2012. I know Con Ed keeps publishing that it costs millions of dollars per mile to bury the power lines. But you have to do it at some point, and it’s going to be cheaper now than if you wait,” Mr. Johnson said.

Michael Clendenin, a spokesman for Con Ed, said the $1 million per mile that burying electrical wires would cost wasn’t the only consideration. He said underground lines cause more outages in the summer and take longer to restore.

“You’re talking about digging up street that already have infrastructure and disturbing peoples’ lives and business,” he said. “And the cost (would) be incurred in customer bills.”