For those who have been without gas service since the rupture of water and gas lines in Harlem last Friday, that is what life has been like. The break affected more than 8,000 homes and businesses, and worsened a sinkhole that was open at West 152nd Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. City officials said they were still investigating the cause of the water main break.
On Thursday, 4,300 customers — in an area bounded by 155th Street and 141st Street, from Convent Avenue to Harlem River Drive — were still without gas, and some were expected to be without it until at least Wednesday, which is when Consolidated Edison officials predicted the last home would be reached.
Nearly a week after the break, the disruptions were clearly being felt.
At Super Plan Laundromat, at West 148th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, in the center of the affected area, business was slow.
The water service was back but the gas was not, so customers had no access to hot water or gas-powered dryers. On a weekend when the laundry would normally take in $2,700, it made only $498, said the store’s manager, Pein Kuenlom. She said she could not pay employees or her rent, and she was worried about losing loyal customers. “All the customers might not come back when we do,” she said.
At Devin’s Fish and Chips, about four blocks south of the water main break, the owner, Tony Robertson, was relieved that he could finally reopen on Thursday. He said he had lost about $10,000 worth of business and had thrown out 400 pounds of fish. “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “Most of the businesses here are already skating on thin ice because of the economy.”
Though water was restored within 24 hours of the rupture, restoring gas in homes and businesses was more difficult.
Kathy Boden, vice president of gas operations in the city at Con Edison, said that the break in the gas main was caused by the water main rupture, which loosened the soil that held the gas line in place. Water cascaded down the gas line, which runs steeply down St. Nicholas Avenue. “That is a dangerous condition,” she said, explaining that water in a gas main snuffs out pilot lights. “Essentially you can fill the building with gas.”
Her first order was to cut service on the flooded lines, which required 250 employees working day and night to shut off equipment in each apartment affected. After pumping 22,000 gallons of water out of the gas main, Con Edison is now inspecting gas lines individually for leaks, as it does whenever it reinstates gas into a line that has been closed. Because of the size of the affected area, this will take hundreds of hours, Ms. Boden said.
“We’re taking this quite seriously,” said Chris Olert, a Con Edison spokesman told the NYTimes. “We want to get the gas to the customers as much as they want it to be done.”
Still, residents were disappointed with the pace. At Edgecombe Avenue and 145th Street, Daisha Martinez, 23, confronted a Con Edison employee taking his lunch break on the corner. “When are we going to get it back?” Ms. Martinez asked him, furious. Her 3-year-old son is asthmatic, she said, and cold baths could aggravate his condition. She bought a hot plate to heat water for him to bathe. “One day, two days, three days, I could understand,” she said. “But it’s been a week.”
Ms. Martinez’s neighbor Noë Flores, 30, said he could not believe how much money his family had spent on packaged meals. “We’ve spent hundreds of dollars on food,” he said, worrying about the diet of his nieces, 11 and 8. “The takeout pizza, they love it, but I don’t want them to get used to that.”
Others said they had spent money on drinking water. Mary Hicks, 75, who lives near the sinkhole, said that her gas service had been restored but that her water was running brown from the tap. She has been buying bottled water since Saturday.
Mercedes Padilla, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, said that the water was safe to drink, but that customers should run the taps until the sediment clears.
She said that the cause of the water main break was under investigation. The agency had inspected the 12-inch main, built in 1956, in October 2010 and in April 2011 and found no problems.
At Devin’s Fish and Chips, Mr. Robertson watched customers flow in for the lunch rush. A plumber who had checked the shop earlier in the week slowed his van and waved.
“I got it on,” Mr. Robertson yelled back about the gas. “I’m good!”