Manhattan Celebrates The Return Of Power

The lights went back on in Manhattan Friday night. Large swaths of the island had been without electricity for nearly five days. The almost total darkness in the lower part of Manhattan had pushed residents to the breaking point. Now, much of that service has been restored.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The lights are back on in Manhattan this morning, but the effects of Sandy are still being felt across many states. Hardest hit, of course, are New York and New Jersey and we have several reports this hour. First, NPR's Robert Smith was in Lower Manhattan last night, as much of the service was restored, and as he reports, it came not a moment too soon

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: I found John Russo in Little Italy standing in the middle of the street staring up the inconceivable, a working New York City street light.

JOHN RUSSO: When I see the light on in my building, I want to about jump up and hug the bulbs.

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: Jump up and hug the bulbs. But then Russo thought of all the other stuff he could do with heat and light.

RUSSO: Ah, forget it. I did 100 things. I took a shower. And then what else? I cleaned the house. I charged the phone. What else?

SMITH: You name it. With the lights back on, it's like every mundane thing in the world is now an indulgent luxury. Russo's big plan for the night? Wait for it. It's exciting.

RUSSO: So I might read three books, two papers and a book.

SMITH: In just four days, New Yorkers had been reduced to marveling at how magical electrons can make miracles happen. I ran into Dominga Escobar who seemed drunk on her newfound power. She charged up every device in the house, and...

DOMINGA ESCOBAR: Because we have Wi-Fi connections, we were able to communicate with the outside world, which obviously was very important.

SMITH: So what were your first historic words to the outside world?

ESCOBAR: Oh, my God, aye, aye, ay. Finally, we're back, hello.

SMITH: And here's how Escobar is going to celebrate.

ESCOBAR: Oh, yes, we're going to sleep with the lights on tucked away in our layers, yeah.

SMITH: Gone are the flashlights, the headlamps, the candles, the huddling in the cold, the long walk to the generator to charge the cell phone. And back are restaurants, the neon, the traffic lights bringing order to what had been a driving free-for-all.

So who among us doesn't love a light? The only curmudgeon I met was Don Johns. He's a bicyclist who had grown used to the freedom of the darkness.

DON JOHNS: There is going to be more people out.

SMITH: I can't believe it. You like New York when it's deserted.

JOHNS: That's proof I live here.

SMITH: There are still some dark areas of Manhattan. Con Ed was powering up the grid one neighborhood at a time. The restaurant Tortaria was on the wrong side of the light-dark divide. Steena Buck, the manager, was still working by candlelight.

I don't know if anyone told you, but one block away they got the power back on.

STEENA BUCK: No, we saw it. It's a little frustrating.

SMITH: You know, you are close enough to run an extension cord over there. I don't know if you've thought of that.

(LAUGHTER)

BUCK: It's tempting. It's very tempting.

SMITH: Oddly, though, the restaurant was full. People who could have walked over to the lighted neighborhood, chose to stay here. One last night of adventure before civilization gets switched on again.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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