UPDATE 1-ConEd warns lower Manhattan customers of possible power outages

NEW YORK Oct 29 (Reuters) - Consolidated Edison Inc, the New York City power provider, warned customers in lower Manhattan it may shut down power on Monday evening as Hurricane Sandy barrels toward the East Coast.

Blackouts could affect streets as far north as 36th Street, the company said in a release, though would likely be limited to those avenues closest to the East and Hudson rivers. The central avenues are not expected to be affected.

``We have contacted customers on the southern tip of Manhattan and on the lower sections of the Hudson and East River,'' Con Edison spokesman Alfonso Quiroz told Reuters, saying the firm's automated calling system had placed calls to homeowners and businesses in the affected area.

The company said in a release it provided the same message to certain customers in flood-prone areas of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

Quiroz said the company would make a final decision at about 8 pm EDT when the tide approaches its highest point.

Con Edison said 71,500 homes and businesses were already without power in New York City and Westchester County primarily due to Sandy's high winds.

The company said all streets in New York City's evacuation zone around Battery Park City on Manhattan's southern tip would be affected by the potential blackout, as well as some on the east and west of the island serviced by the same electrical networks.

The shutdown would be a precautionary measure to avoid water damage to the utility's equipment in the event of a major storm surge. Seawater can damage underground electrical equipment. Shutting the equipment down can help to limit the damage.

Quiroz said it would allow the company to restore power faster after the storm.

``A lot depends on the severity of the storm,'' Quiroz said.

``We wanted to let people know in and around these areas that there may be disruption to their service.''