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Long walk home for Queens

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As subway trains resumed service, business owners tallied their losses and bare supermarket cases across the borough started to fill up once again with steaks and filets, Queens slowly began to resemble the place it was on Aug. 13 before the largest blackout in American history.

The massive electrical failure that crippled the city, the state and parts of two nations swept into Queens, knocking out subways and trains, closing stores, grounding planes, and making it a challenge to get a comfortable night’s sleep.

But days after the power came back on, the only residual signs of the outage were the estimated $56 million in losses to small business, some sore feet and a few lingering stock shortages in stores.

Emergency generators kept hospitals, nursing homes, police stations and firehouses functioning at basic levels, and there were no deaths reported in the borough. Looting and vandalism were the exception rather than the rule, and there were few reports of price-gouging.

Still, a host of inconveniences and discomforts faced Queens residents.

Subways and LIRR trains were completely out of service, forcing many to wear out their legs trekking over the Queensboro Bridge. Thousands of others shifted their feet from pedal to pedal as they inched along a string of darkened traffic signals.

Most stores, unable to operate and fearing looters, closed early. Thousands sweated on lines at the few stores that stayed open, while nearby bottles of spring water and cartons of ice cream lay locked away inside behind steel window gates.

With no power to cook meals or air conditioning to cool dining rooms, borough restaurant owners watched meat and fish spoil even as hungry customers lined up elsewhere for water, bread and canned goods.

Power returned with the sun, first in Astoria and western Queens, then spreading to Bayside, Flushing and much of the eastern section of the borough. But it was not until Friday evening that the lights came back on in Jamaica and Howard Beach, late but at least in time for sundown.

Mets fans could not ride the No. 7 train to Shea Stadium Friday night, but they were at least able to watch their team shut out the Colorado Rockies on television. And when the first subway trains did begin to run several hours later, many borough residents found themselves thankful for the urban transport they had so often taken for granted.

Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

Posted 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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