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Mayor Michael Bloomberg Holds a Press Conference on Wide-Scale Power Outage

Aired August 14, 2003 - 17:52   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We are now going to go to Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: Well, good afternoon. Let me first tell you, I've just gotten off the phone with Gene McGrath, who is the chairman of the board of Con Edison, and he is pleased to inform us that power is starting to come back from the north and from the west.

What that means is that we will be starting up power in the city. It will take a decent amount of time, hours, not minutes, and nobody really can be any more specific than that.

The first thing that everybody should do is to understand that there is no evidence of any terrorism whatsoever. For some reason or other, there was a power failure in northern New York or southern Canada. That cascaded down through the system and affected the power grid as far east as Connecticut, as far south as New Jersey and as far west as Ohio.

To the best of our knowledge, nobody has been injured during the evacuation procedure from tall buildings or from the subways. There are people who are still in the subways as of last report, but the police are saying that the evacuation procedures are working, people are calm, and that they are getting out.

A lot of people are inconvenienced, clearly. Most hospitals have power. One hospital does not, Downstate (ph) Hospital in Brooklyn.

The police commissioner and the fire commissioner and the deputy commissioner for Office of Emergency Management are all here. What they report, in summary, is a very quiet city. There are no fires of any size going on at the moment. There's no criminal activity of any size taking place or hasn't been reported. 911 is working. 311 is working.

Things like traffic lights are not working. The police department has dispersed people to major intersections to try to help with traffic direction. The fire department and police department have called in all of their staff, those that had been on earlier and those that were scheduled to come on. So we are fully staffed.

Our advice to people is to be very careful in going home. It is very hot out there. The water supply is safe and you should drink a lot of water. You should keep your refrigerator doors closed. You should open your windows.

It is also important that you turn off all electrical appliances, particularly air conditioners, because as the power comes back Con Ed and the other power companies will have a very difficult time if the demand is 100 percent. So by turning off your air conditioners you will in fact help yourself get air conditioning a lot quicker.

At the moment, people are doing what you would expect them to do in New York City: They're cooperating. And if you are walking and you feel the least bit faint, go into a police precinct, go into a firehouse, go into a restaurant, sit down, have some water, and just be sure that you don't make an inconvenience into a tragedy.

BLOOMBERG: At the moment, you should know that I've talked to Andy Card, who is the president's chief of staff, and to Governor Pataki. Both have offered aid. But there's nothing at the moment that we think they can provide us with. We believe that our internal capacity is adequate to maintain public safety and to continue the process of recovery from a power failure.

We've talked to the MTA. As I said, I've talked to Con Ed. Everybody has been as helpful as you could possibly ask them to be.

And with a lot of luck, later on this evening we will look back on this and say, "Where were you when the lights went out?" but nobody will have gotten hurt.

I think it's a fair statement to say that for most events that were planned tonight, the power will probably not be back in time, and I would assume that most people would cancel any events that they had planned.

Be happy to take a question or two. Sir?

QUESTION: There was some discrepancy. Earlier you said that the smoke that was coming out of (OFF-MIKE) Street Station was normal. The fire department told CNN that...

BLOOMBERG: Who did? I'm sorry.

QUESTION: An OEM spokesperson told CNN that there may have been a fire...

BLOOMBERG: There was no fire whatsoever. My statement, I believe to be correct.

Gene McGrath, the chairman of the board of Con Ed, assures me that that smoke is what should happen when the boilers are turned off at Con Ed.

What happens is, Con Ed has to turn off their generating facilities when they don't get outside power. They can only generate power in the same order of magnitude as they are receiving from outside. When they get none from outside, there's no place for the power to go. They shut down their boilers. They were done, to the best of their knowledge, with no damage whatsoever. When that procedure is done, you tend to get some thick, black smoke coming out of the stacks. That's exactly what people saw.

There is -- let me repeat again -- no evidence whatsoever of terrorism.

QUESTION: You indicated that with luck we'd have power tonight. Did you get any indication from Con Ed about -- I mean, is there a reason for you to believe that other than hope?

BLOOMBERG: No, no. Power is starting to come back from the various facilities. The power generation capacity of Con Ed and of most power facilities, maybe all -- because we still don't know exactly what happened in Canada -- is intact.

It's just once all of this shuts down, it is a very complex and time consuming process that has to be very carefully choreographed to bring it back up. That is starting to take place. It is very encouraging.

But I don't want anybody to think that the power is going to be back for everybody in the next hour. It is not going to be.

BLOOMBERG: But sometime over the next few hours in a sporadic way people will start to have the lights go back on. And it would be very helpful if people kept the lights off.

QUESTION: Will the city have to be deploying lights at any major intersections?

BLOOMBERG: We have. The Office of Emergency Management has started to do that. With a lot of luck the power will be back before it's dark and maybe they'll never be needed. But we have a careful plan which we've rehearsed and practiced to deal with exactly this emergency. And as of this moment, virtually everything that we had expected to be able to do, we have done. And New Yorkers are cooperating exactly in the ways you would expect them to.


QUESTION: Can you tell us what's happening at Downstate (ph)? Are patients being evacuated or are generator trucks being...

BLOOMBERG: The police department is over there. Calvin's (ph) talked to them.


BLOOMBERG: They've deployed a generator over there. They should be up. And I think there's no -- as far as we know, nobody's life has been endangered.


QUESTION: So at this point there's no need or no plan to call up the National Guard for any...

BLOOMBERG: There is no need and no plan to call out the National Guard. The governor has certainly volunteered to do anything that we asked for, but there is no need. The New York City Police Department can certainly maintain order. And when you see all of New Yorkers on the street cooperating, it's probably in some senses an easier job for the police department and for the fire department. Everybody cooperates and everybody is careful.


QUESTION: Is the NYPD taking steps to prevent looting at this point or tonight? BLOOMBERG: The NYPD has people at most major intersections, and I don't think that this is a city in this day and age where that's a real risk. But you may rest assured that the entire NYPD is out protecting the people of this city.


QUESTION: Mr. Mayor, do you know how many people are still in the subways or in elevators?

BLOOMBERG: We don't know. The MTA thinks that there's not that many. There are some trains under the river. They are getting them out one by one, and with every moment that passes, there are fewer and fewer.

At the moment, it would appear that nobody's life is in jeopardy. I'm sure as people come out they'll say they were worried, that it was hot, that it was inconvenient, that they sweated, that they didn't know what was happening, the normal kinds of things. The procedures, as far as we know as of this moment, all are working and particularly the evacuation procedures.


QUESTION: Where were you when the lights went out?

BLOOMBERG: I was just across the river in the city, in Brooklyn, as a matter of fact.

QUESTION: How did you become aware that something had happened? Were you inside?

BLOOMBERG: Well, I was actually sitting at a table and it was pretty bright, and I did not notice that the lights went out. And somebody tapped me on the shoulder and said the lights went out.

But it's a bright sunny day, as you know here, and I think a lot of people had that experience. Just all of a sudden a few things weren't working. And then you realize just how dependent we are on electricity.

QUESTION: Has there been any mobilization activated by the PD? Are we in a level one or level two?

BLOOMBERG: The police department's called in everybody. Did you call...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes. We've done a mobilization. And...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're at level 2.

BLOOMBERG: We're at level 2.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're at level 2. We have a, you know, a comprehensive blackout plan that we're putting in effect. It's in effect.

BLOOMBERG: The police department has a plan where local precincts take over command in case their communication system doesn't work. It is another one of those things that we have worked at very carefully. Coordination between police, fire, OEM, department of health is here.

One of the great risks that we run is that people die because of heat or lack of water, and so that's why the department of health and mental hygiene is here.

QUESTION: Do you have any more indications what the root cause is...

BLOOMBERG: No. At the moment Con Ed does not know, and we're relying on them and the other power companies for it.

There will clearly be an investigation of two things -- one, what happened; and two, why did it affect the whole system, why were the safeguards that were put in the last time it affected the whole system not working?

QUESTION: Mr. Mayor, just asking you to put your engineers on tap here for a second: Has Con Ed isolated itself from the grid, do you know, or...


BLOOMBERG: Well, what you do is you make sure that you don't get a surge, and then you slowly as it comes in, you match it and then make sure the power goes to one location at a time. You don't want to generate power to every place. You wouldn't have enough power as the generators spool up to do that, and you would just cause your circuit breakers to kick right out, which is not what you want.

QUESTION: I just want to get more of your personal observations if you noted how people are orderly walking across the bridge and what you noticed returning to this office.

BLOOMBERG: There's nobody that's a bigger fan of New Yorkers than I am, and I think you're seeing the very best of the best. When the going gets tough, New Yorkers pull together. They are very proud people. They are people who understand that we live in a very complex world together.

Tragically, we had experience of dealing with adversity back on 9/11, but New Yorkers every day cooperate.

BLOOMBERG: There is a phenomenally low crime rate in this city.

One of the things that got canceled today was, I was going to meet the young lady who tragically was assaulted by a deranged person when she was here. She's back in the city and loves the city. And we were going to get together.

I talked to earlier on the phone. I think it's one of those things we're not going to be able to do.


Her experience in New York City is very different than most of us.

QUESTION: I know you addressed this earlier in the press conference, do you have an accounting of the people that, perhaps, are stuck in elevators? How much of a priority is that for you?

BLOOMBERG: The fire department has been to every building, and we're double-checking. We think that all of the evacuation procedures in all of the big buildings work.

A lot of people probably walked down a lot of stairs. And it's very tiring when you.

But I'm trying to get everybody...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) city agencies mobilized other than fire and police?

BLOOMBERG: Sure. OEM has a whole list, and every agency coordinates. I think some, like Department of Film, Theater and Television don't have a lot to do on a day like this, but everybody has been cooperating. And the city has continued to work. And tomorrow, we'll be right back up, business as usual.

QUESTION: Can you say that the city will be back to business tomorrow morning?

BLOOMBERG: I would expect everything to be back to business tomorrow. You probably will have some traffic lights out of sequence, although maybe we can even get those done.

But our expectation, assuming that the plan to bring back power continues without anything else going wrong -- and at the moment that is what's happening -- by later on this evening it will be back to speculating, "Where were you when the lights went out?"

QUESTION: Are there any additional means of transportation being put into place?

BLOOMBERG: No, I think that it's not practical at this point in time. You couldn't get facilities. Remember, virtually all of the buses and virtually all of the ferries are being used any ways at rush hour. So you don't have a lot of spare capacity to bring on.

The fact of the matter is, you should not stress yourself, drink a lot of water.

If you live far out, try to get a ride from somebody. People are going to offer you rides. And I'm sure everybody will get home safely.

QUESTION: If you can't get out tonight, are there any places in the city...

BLOOMBERG: We are setting up some shelters. We will put it out on the city Web site. Will be on 311. We'll get it to the radio and television stations.

Calvin's (ph) working on that right now.

BLOOMBERG: We are setting up some shelters. We will put it out on the city Web site. Will be on 311? We'll get it to the radio and television stations. Calvin's (ph) working on that right now.

QUESTION: Can the police commissioner tell us a little bit about whatever contingency plans the department has put in place as a result of all this?

BLOOMBERG: I don't know if you want to go into any depth.

RAYMOND W. KELLY, NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: Well, as I say, we have a major comprehensive blackout plan. We have something called a stand-alone plan where the borough commanders have everyone in their geographical boroughs report to them.

We're deploying with OEM our light packages. We're focusing on the high-rise buildings with the fire department to make certain that, you know, people are not stuck in elevators.

This is, you know, something that, obviously on a much larger scale, but it's not something that we're unaccustomed to. So we're doing it on a citywide basis.

We're deploying our Atlas Teams (ph). We're continuing to focus our security on our sensitive locations, the ones where we have our Atlas Teams (ph) normally assigned. We've kept that security in place. We want to make certain that no one is taking advantage of this situation.

QUESTION: Was there any moment where before it was clear it was not a terrorist attack where any sort of counterterrorism plans went into effect?

KELLY: Initially, yes. I mean, we obviously weren't certain what the cause of it was and our Atlas Teams (ph) were deployed. And our alternate command site was activated. And, again, our stand-alone plan, as I said, is in effect. But we use that in the event of a possible terrorist event.

BLOOMBERG: Let me just add, the bridges are all open outbound. We've closed them inbound just because while we don't have any power you don't need more cars on the congested streets of Manhattan. And I would urge everybody once again, turn off electrical appliances to make Con Ed's job easier when the power does come back. And try to conserve water, particularly in tall buildings. In tall buildings water generally reaches the upper floors through an electric pump, and if there's no electricity, a lot of the upper floors you'll find after a little bit of usage no longer have water.

So if you turn on your tap and you're in a high-rise building, go to one of the lower floors, knock on the door.

BLOOMBERG: I'm sure somebody whose water gets fed by gravity will have it.

QUESTION: Is the way that the power comes back on prioritized in some way, your understanding, or is it simply how the plants come back up...

BLOOMBERG: It is done based on the needs of the power company and how their equipment works. No other...

QUESTION: Are there parts of the city that are prioritized to come back...

BLOOMBERG: There's no priority in the sense of we think one part of the city is more important than another. It is how Con Ed gets their power -- and the other companies. Remember, Con Ed is not the only power-generating company anymore. We have a very complex, deregulated power world. So there are a number of generators and a number of people that distribute the power, and when I talk about Con Ed, I'm talking about a generic system as well as Con Ed the company.

QUESTION: You were saying that people should accept rides. Do you have a special plea to make for drivers, because outside people are not stopping for pedestrians.

BLOOMBERG: Well, I don't know if they aren't, but they should. I think our experience the last time we had a situation like this was there were a lot of people that did stop, pick up others.

Some people, I remember, criticized me for suggesting that you take a ride with strangers. But this is New York, where people get along, and it's probably pretty safe, and I would not have any qualms about doing it. I think you'll see everybody pull together.

There is always a silver lining. And the good news here is that while this is clearly a major inconvenience, let us just pray that nobody dies from the heat or an accident that was caused by this.

And then, if we get through that, we'll look back on this as another test of New York and another reason to be very proud of the people that we work with and we live with and that we have a future with.

Thank you very much.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Mayor Michael Bloomberg. I guess you could say trying to make light of the situation when he said everything's going to go fine and we are going to look back on this and say where were we when the lights went out. He's saying power already starting to come back. No evidence of terrorism whatsoever. A direct quote from the mayor there. A power failure caused this blackout somewhere either in New York at Con Edison or in Ottawa within the Niagara Mohawk power grid. Possibly overloaded there. And he said wherever that failure occurred, it just cascaded down through the system, causing the blackouts in New York, Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto, Ottawa, Eerie, Pennsylvania, and parts of Connecticut. He said no criminal activity to report, no lives endangered. 911 is working. No fires of any size. Water supply is safe.

If anything, the mayor encouraging everybody to drink lots of water. It's in the 90s there in New York City. An extremely hot day. And he's asking everyone to turn off all electrical appliances, especially the air-conditioner. Keep all electricity turned off so as the power starts to come back on it won't get jammed and pretty soon, hopefully before dark, power will be up and running. The mayor saying he hopes tomorrow business will be back to normal.

Meanwhile, tonight two pieces of news to bring you. Of course, all Broadway shows have been canceled, and the Mets and Giants game.


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