NEW YORK — Blame a very high tide driven by a full moon, the worst storm surge in nearly 200 years, and the placement of underground electrical equipment in flood-prone areas for the most extensive power outage in New York City’s history.
It’s like what happened at the Fukushima nuclear complex in Japan last year — without the radiation. At a Consolidated Edison substation in Manhattan’s East Village, a gigantic wall of water defied elaborate planning and expectations, swamped underground electrical equipment, and left about 250,000 lower Manhattan customers without power.
Last year, the surge from Hurricane Irene reached 9.5 feet at the substation. ConEd figured it had that covered.
The utility also figured the infrastructure could handle a repeat of the highest surge on record for the area — 11 feet during a hurricane in 1821, according to the National Weather Service. After all, the substation was designed to withstand a surge of 12.5 feet.
With all the planning, and all the predictions, planning big was not big enough. Superstorm Sandy went bigger — a surge of 14 feet.
“Nobody predicted it would be that high,” said ConEd spokesman Allan Drury.