Alien blue light over New York sets off social media storm

Glow caused by transformer blast that delayed flights at LaGuardia and affected subway services

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A transformer explosion at an electrical plant set the skies above New York City pulsing with an eerie blue light on Thursday night and sparked a social media storm of jokes about an alien invasion.

The blast at the electrical substation on the East River, near the Rikers Island prison complex, caused a brief fire at the sprawling facility and scattered power outages that affected flights at LaGuardia Airport and subway services in the area.

Power had been largely restored to LaGuardia by 11pm and the airport was resuming normal operations. Travellers were still asked to check with their carriers for updated flight information.

The spectacular illumination of the New York skyline caused a stir on social media as witnesses posted photographs and videos of a bright, blue flash that filled the night sky. The Manhattan skyline and iconic East River bridges were suddenly silhouetted against a backdrop of pulsating light.

People flocked to social media to find out what happened and to share their views of the plumes of smoke pouring from the transformer.

"It was pitch black outside and then suddenly the whole side of the eastern sky was lighting up and changing colors," said Madeleine Frank Reeves, who saw the lights from her Upper West Side apartment. "It lasted a couple of minutes."

Some observers wondered whether aliens were invading and joked that the trend of gender reveal parties had finally gone too far. Television host Keith Olbermann referred to the episode as the "Blue Light Special".

"Something insane is happening in the sky above Manhattan right now," New York University sociologist Eric Klineberg wrote on Twitter under a video of the flashing sky.

Mayor Bill de Blasio's spokesman Eric Phillips tweeted that the lights were attributable to a "blown transformer".

"Not aliens," he tweeted.

John Tebbett, who lives two blocks away from the facility, told NY1 the explosion was followed for about five minutes by a loud roar. The blast caused the lights in his home to flicker off and on, he said. Mr Tebbett, an instructor with the local electrical union, walked down toward the facility to get a better look.

"You could hear the roar and see the super white, bright light," Mr Tebbett said. "It took them about five minutes, maybe. As we were watching it, it was like somebody turned off the power and it just went dark and then it was quiet. The roar stopped and it was dead quiet for a moment and then you could hear the emergency vehicles start to come in."

It was the second major incident involving the Con Edison power company in the last six months. In July, a steam pipe explosion spewed asbestos-laden vapour into the air in Manhattan's Flatiron District, driving hundreds of people from their homes and businesses.

Con Edison said on Twitter that there was "a brief electrical fire at our substation in Astoria which involved some electrical transformers and caused a transmission dip in the area."


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New York's LaGuardia loses power after transformer explosion