Panic power withdrawals hit NYC banks

2012-10-31 20:58
People wait to use a pay phone on Bright Beach Avenue, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (John Minchillo, AP)

People wait to use a pay phone on Bright Beach Avenue, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (John Minchillo, AP)

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New York - There was a post-hurricane run on Manhattan banks on Wednesday, but the panic was to withdraw electricity, not cash.

Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and thousands of tourists trapped in the great Sandy blackout are all desperate to get power to charge up cellphones and laptops.

Any spare plug in bank lobbies, pharmacies, 24 hour delis and bars has come under assault from the masses who have been starved of power since superstorm Sandy hit the city on Monday night.

A queue of 10 people, including two women with their dogs, waited in line at a Chase Manhattan bank on Third Avenue. An extension plug meant that three people at a time could recharge their phones or computers.

"Somebody brought the extension and left it, it's not ours," said a manager at the bank who requested anonymity as he did not have permission to speak to the media.

"But we don't mind. People are suffering, a lot of our own staff are suffering. Since the storm a lot of people have been coming here at night because there is light and warmth. It is really cold outside," he added.

There was a similar power grab at bank lobbies across Manhattan where the queues are normally for automatic cash dispensers. People sat on suitcases tapping on their computers. Bank lobbies have been packed through the night every night since the storm.

Further up Third Avenue another big queue formed at the socket at the entrance to a CVS pharmacy. Staff loaded depleted shelves alongside the waiting tourists, making no attempt to stop them.

"My flight home was cancelled because of the storm and I am not sure I will be able to extend my hotel after tomorrow," said Polish tourist Anton Andrzejewski, hoping to extend the life of his laptop and telephone.

"It is my only contact with the world", he said.

Free electricity

Behind him, though, there were eight people waiting. And while the power queues have been good-natured, Andrzejewski feared an attempt to use the plug twice might draw complaints.

More than 230 000 homes are without power in Manhattan. Most of the lower part of the island has been blacked out since Monday night and the crisis for these people is likely to last until the end of the week.

"I come here for a warm meal for my son and to charge up my phone," said Carmine Steedrup, a lower Manhattan resident who went to a 24-hour deli further north on Second Avenue with her 20-month-old son Aron.

"It is a lifeline. I have no candles left and it is pretty grim in the southern part after dark," she said.

The deli looked like a camp site. Suitcases, handbags, laptops brought by the storm's refugees were scattered across the 10 tables. Its Korean-American owner Lee Han-bok said, "I would not normally allow this kind of mess, but this has been an extraordinary week."

The lack of power has starved some businesses of money, but other astute store owners see an opportunity in helping deflated cellphone owners.

"Free Electricity" said a sign on the door of a store in Lexington Avenue that sells vitamins and supplements. Inside, five people were plugged in.

"Nobody wants to buy vitamins after an event like this. But they do want electricity and most people buy something after they have charged up," said its owner, Pratap Lal.

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