Brooklynites who lost power ask Con Edison: ‘Why us?’

July 22, 2019 Noah Goldberg
Milicent Sylvester (left) and her neighbor, Elsa, spent Sunday night in sweltering heat in Flatlands after power went out on their block. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg
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Sweeping power outages in southeast Brooklyn that stranded residents without air conditioning on the hottest weekend of the year continued into Monday morning, leaving residents wondering why Con Edison cut their electricity.

The energy company said in a press release on Sunday night that the power outage, which affected more than 30,000 customers, was a “preemptive move to take those customers in southeast Brooklyn out of service in order to protect vital equipment.”

Related: Pulling the plug on Con Ed? Officials seek accountability after Brooklyn blackout

Residents in Flatlands said the lights started flickering without warning around 4:30 or 5 p.m. on Sunday, then shut off entirely a few hours later.

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Milicent Sylvester, who had a heart transplant in 2016, feared her shortness of breath Sunday night would send her to the hospital.

“Last night was the worst night in my life,” she said. “I couldn’t hardly breathe and I had shortness of breath, and if I get like that I have to go to the hospital.”

Sylvester stayed up all night, taking a late-night stroll with her daughter with only a flashlight to guide them. Just a few blocks away, on Flatbush Avenue, an air-conditioned Dunkin’ Donuts was open and packed despite the late hour, leaving Sylvester and her neighbors to wonder why their block was without power while others remained unaffected.

The Con Edison outage map shows the hardest hit areas in the July 21, 2019, outage.
The Con Edison outage map shows the hardest-hit areas in the July 21, 2019 outage.

“I have one question for Con Ed: Why’d they choose us?” said Flatlands resident Stanley Henriquez on Monday morning. “Why are we the ones that have to suffer for the bigger power grid? We pay like everybody else.”

“I don’t think it’s fair, and I just paid my Con Ed bill of $137 this month,” said Sylvester. “I don’t understand how some places have lights and we don’t.”

Allan Drury, a spokesperson for Con Edison, said that “the circumstances in this area dictated the decision.”

“We had customers out of service in the area and it was evident that additional equipment was likely to fail due to the three days of intense heat and heavy demand,” Drury said in an email to the Brooklyn Eagle.

“If we had not taken the action we did, the customers who were out would have experienced a more prolonged outage because the equipment would have sustained damage. The outage also would have had the potential to spread to more customers in the area.”

Around 11 p.m. on Sunday night, nearly 32,000 Brooklyn households were without power, according to a Con Edison power outage map. The most-affected areas were Bergen Beach, Mill Basin, Flatlands, Canarsie and Flatlands, according to the company.

New York City and Westchester reached a new record for peak power usage on Sunday evening when readings hit 12,063 megawatts at 6 p.m., leading Con Edison to shut power off across parts of southeast Brooklyn.

“This situation in Brooklyn came at the very tail end of a heat emergency,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday morning at a press conference. “Obviously, Con Ed knew they were dealing with an extraordinary situation.” The mayor called the outages “predictable” and “therefore preventable” and demanded a full investigation of Con Edison.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo also called for an investigation last week after 70,000 customers lost power in upper Manhattan on July 13, and Brooklyn Councilmembers Justin Brannan and Mark Treyger demanded on Thursday that the probe be expanded to Brooklyn, as well.

Stanley Henriquez said he pays his Con Edison bill every month, and wonders why his block was targeted for turning off the power Sunday night. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg
Stanley Henriquez said he pays his Con Edison bill every month, and wonders why his block was targeted for turning off the power Sunday night. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg

By 10:15 a.m. on Monday, the number of households in Brooklyn without power was down to just over 14,000, with Mayor Bill de Blasio saying it should be back completely by early afternoon. But on East 40th Street between Flatlands Avenue and Kings Highway, electricity had still not returned.

Henriquez said he had to take the day off work to watch over a generator he bought the night before. “I can’t leave the generator on when I’m not home.”

Elsa, who lives on the same block, noted that although she has the name of the main character from Disney’s “Frozen,” she was melting last night.

“We have things in the fridge. Medication for diabetes and eyedrops have to be refrigerated and of course so much food,” she said. She hadn’t yet opened the fridge door to check on the medication, because she wanted it to stay as cold as possible.

Henriquez and Elsa’s neighbor Rebecca said her husband, who is diabetic, slept in their car on Sunday night so he could have some air conditioning.

Marcia, who lives with her mother on East 40th Street, said they slept in the basement on Sunday because it was the coolest place in the house. She said neighbors were out on the stoops past 11 p.m.

“I’m supposed to be at work, but I called out because my alarm system is out and anybody could sneak into my house,” she said.

Update (2 p.m.) — This story has been updated with a statement from Con Edison. 

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