What caused this electrical substation to explode in Manhattan last night?

Some of the most striking footage to come out of Frankenstorm Sandy's merciless pounding of New York City began rolling in last night, shortly after 8:30 pm, when a massive explosion at a Consolidated Edison substation plunged tens of thousands of Manhattan residents into darkness.


Photographs of the eruption, which occurred at the Lower East Side Con Ed Plant at E15th and FDR, capture the blaze of light that countless people witnessed moments before losing power. In an interview with io9, Con Ed spokesperson Allan Drury said many New York residents can expect to be without power for anywhere from a few days to a week.

According to Drury, details surrounding the explosion are still muddled.

"It could have been the flooding - because we had a lot of flooding," he explained. "Or it could have been debris flying through the air that caused the equipment to fail. Wind gusts were quite heavy at that point."


Twitter was characteristically abuzz with photos and video of the explosion, including the footage seen here. But it was also rife with misinformation. Shortly after news of the explosion broke, reports began to circulate that numerous Con Ed workers had been trapped inside the plant by high water levels. Those rumors were quickly dispelled by Con Ed - there was certainly flooding, but no trapped workers. Drury added that nobody was injured in the accident.

Illustration for article titled What caused this electrical substation to explode in Manhattan last night?

When asked why there had been no warning of exploding substations in the days and hours leading up to Sandy's arrival, Drury explained that Sandy had simply brought more punishment than anyone had anticipated.

"We knew there were two things we would face heading into this storm. A lot of our system is overhead, so we knew, for example, that there would be a lot of trees toppled into wires, and obviously that happened."


"We also knew the storm surge would pose a threat to underground systems [including this substation]. We don't usually have a tidal surge. Hurricane Irene was 9.5 at the Battery which was extraordinary. I think it was the power of the surge. Projections said it would reach between 10 and 12 feet, and it actually reached 14. It was just more than anyone expected."

"We're not sure what caused the explosion yet," explained Drury. "I haven't talked to anybody about the physics of the whole thing."


We'll keep you posted as information rolls in.

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