The New York Observer, September 24, 2001

By James Verini

The ringing of the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Sept. 17 not only announced the resumption of trading in the post-9/11 world — it also marked the successful completion of a massive attempt to restore the infrastructure of downtown Manhattan so business, if not life itself, could return to normal.

In the week after the World Trade Center catastrophe, New York became the city that never sleeps — literally. Besides the rescue workers, firefighters, police and construction workers picking through the rubble, thousands of guardians of the city’s telecommunications and power network also worked around the clock to keep New York lit and moving.

Early Sunday morning, companies and agencies from Con Edison to Verizon to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority were at ground zero, assessing the damage and trying to circumvent it. Surrounded by soldiers and enveloped in acrid smoke, the utility workers took back lower Manhattan block by block, fixing one problem before moving on to the next.

“They give us no idea of the big picture,” said a Con Edison manager who did not want to be identified. “They just tell us where to put what.”

In this case, the what was a 1,000-kilowatt temporary generator, and the where was the corner of Broadway and Morrison, where a large business customer still had no power.

The gray metal box had been brought from New Jersey on the back of a trailer. It was one of 50 generators the utility has installed in lower Manhattan since the towers went down. More than 26 miles of high-voltage cable, some of it in open-air ducts and some of it in temporary shallow trenches, line the streets.

A few blocks away, near a group of sanitation and M.T.A. workers hosing down the steps of the Wall Street subway station, another Con Edison crew was going from basement to basement, turning off switches in hopes of preventing a power surge when everybody turned their lights back on. Their progress was spotty, dependent on whether the building managers could get past police barriers to open the doors for them.

“We’re not allowed to turn anything off ourselves,” one worker said.

Con Edison said that the demand for temporary power had been overwhelming. Two major Con Ed substations giving juice to the Fulton network (which stretches from Dover to Wall streets, between the East River and William Street) and the Park Place network (from Thomas to Murray streets, between Broadway and West Street), are located next to 7 World Trade Center, which collapsed late in the day on Sept. 11. Con Edison would not give details on the condition of the substations, but did say that 12,000 customers had lost service. As of Tuesday, more than 8,000 of them had gotten it back.

Only slightly better off is Verizon, Manhattan’s major phone-service provider. It, too, had a central office directly next to 7 World Trade Center, at 140 West Street. Verizon workers were kept from reentering it until Sept. 14, three days after they’d fled. When they returned, they found the four enormous call-processing computers that serve three million data circuits, which were housed in debris-free and environment-controlled rooms, caked in dust or drowning in water.

“The first thing we did was pump out the cable vaults,” said John Bonomo, a Verizon spokesman. “Water and telephone cable don’t mix.”

Mr. Bonomo said that the central office at 140 West Street handled 200,000 phone lines.

Verizon Wireless made 5,000 phones available to emergency-response authorities last week, but as of Sept. 12 only about 800 were claimed.

“A lot of those lines go to offices or companies that just don’t exist anymore,” Mr. Bonomo said.

On Fulton Street Monday morning, Ozzie Garcia oversaw a Verizon crew that was going down into manholes to check the status of copper and fiber-optic cables. They used what is called a 630-set — sending signals and checking any trouble spots with a hand-held amplifier. They, too, had to proceed building by building.

“It’s a slow process,” Mr. Garcia said. He is one of as many as 3,000 Verizon employees working overtime downtown.

Nearby, technicians for Lexent, an independent contractor brought in by the city to check the health of fiber-optic cable, were having an easier time. They had to climb down into manholes as well, but only to shine special lights onto the cable. If there’s a signal, the whole line is all right.

“So far it looks pretty good,” said the technician, who did not want to be named.

Meanwhile, workers from the M.T.A. faced a rather black-and-white situation. Stations downtown, like Wall Street and Bowling Green, needed only to be hosed off and to have the magnetic strips in the turnstiles cleaned of dust. The Rector Street station of the N and R lines, located just east of the World Trade Center, is intact, but not in use because of serious damage to the Cortland N-R stop.

Worse off are the Cortland Street and Rector Street stations on the Nos. 1 and 9.

“All we can see is either end of the tunnel,” Al O’Leary, an M.T.A. spokesman, said. “We suspect it collapsed.”

He said that service between Chambers Street and South Ferry will be discontinued “indefinitely.”