Recharged, But Not Out Of Woods

Commuters wait on the platform at the 34th Street/Herald Square subway station as subways were running in all of New York City Saturday, Aug. 16, 2003.
AP
At street fairs, in baseball parks, even on the subway, people reveled in the familiar Saturday as the Midwest and Northeast almost fully recovered from the worst power outage in U.S. history.

While cities from New York to Detroit slipped back into the pace of a summer weekend, investigators turned their attention to three transmission lines in Ohio that may have sparked Thursday's blackout.

"We are fairly certain" that the problem started in Ohio, said Michehl Gent, head of the North American Electric Reliability Council. "We are now trying to determine why the situation was not (contained)."

Day One A.B. — after blackout — arrived in the nation's largest city with the subway system back on track, once again zipping New Yorkers from the Battery up to the Bronx.

Power was officially restored to the entire city at 9:03 p.m. Friday, nearly 29 hours after it went out almost simultaneously in eight states and Canada. The subways started rolling just after midnight Saturday.

Cleveland's power was fully restored Friday, in time for both baseball's Cleveland Indians and the NFL's Browns to play at home. The lingering problem was that city residents had to boil water before drinking or cooking with it.

People in Detroit, where water pressure was low, were under a similar order, though power was restored to nearly all of Michigan's 2.3 million customers Saturday. Energy officials called the situation tenuous and said it was critical for people to conserve electricity to avoid rolling blackouts.

"If customers will cooperate one more day, I think we'll be able to avoid rolling blackouts," DTE Energy chairman and chief executive Anthony Earley said Saturday afternoon.

As for details on specific areas:

  • NEW YORK:

    Power to New York City was fully restored at 9:03 p.m. Friday, Consolidated Edison announced, and virtually all the rest of the state had regained electricity as well. The City Council estimated the city lost up to $750 million in revenue, up to $40 million in tax revenue and up to $10 million in overtime pay for the first 24 hours after the blackout started. New York City bridges and tunnels were open. All of the city's 24 main subway lines, and commuter rail services were running Saturday. The only places in the area still suffering from a major blackout hangover Saturday were the three major airports. With several hundred flights canceled on Friday, "the airlines are still trying to get their schedules back in order," said Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman. Fires claimed the lives of a 6-year-old boy and a 40-year-old man. The man suffered a heart attack.

  • OHIO:

    Only spotty outages in the Cleveland area remained Friday evening, from the peak of 1.4 million. Rolling blackouts were the result of a lack of available electricity. About 1.5 million people lost water in the Cleveland area and residents used bottled water for drinking and bathing.

  • MICHIGAN:

    The number of customers without power dropped to about 50,000 statewide, but power company DTE said it could be the end of the weekend before everyone's power was restored. Detroit Edison reported that all but a few neighborhoods had power Saturday morning. At the peak, about 2.3 million were without power. Detroit Metropolitan Airport had limited operations. Gov. Jennifer Granholm declared a state of emergency.

  • CANADA:

    Blackouts occurred in Toronto and much of southern Ontario, from Ottawa in the province's eastern region to Windsor, across the border from Detroit. Ontario Premier Ernie Eves declared a state of emergency. The blackout hit the southern part of Ontario, where most of the province's 10 million residents live, and electricity slowly returned Friday. Eves said electricity generation was expected to reach two-thirds capacity by the end of Friday.

  • CONNECTICUT:

    Just 450 customers, down from a peak of 278,000, remained dark by early Saturday. Fire officials in Waterbury said a Friday morning blaze that killed a 42-year-old woman and burned her husband and son was caused by a candle lit because of the blackout.

  • NEW JERSEY:

    Electricity was restored to nearly all affected customers, with fewer than 5,000 customers still without power, from the peak of 1 million homes and businesses. Commuter railroads and buses had limited to full service.

  • PENNSYLVANIA:

    No major problems reported after 100,000 customers, mostly in northwestern counties, initially lost power. Most recovered electricity shortly after nightfall Thursday, and FirstEnergy Corp. said all its customers in the state regained service by noon.

  • VERMONT:

    A quick shutdown of transmission lines from New York averted major outages in Vermont. A small area near the Canadian border lost power briefly, but it affected only a few thousand customers.

  • MASSACHUSETTS:

    All 20,000 customers affected by the blackout had power restored.

    The blackout occurred at 4:11 p.m. EDT Thursday, creating instant chaos in the eastern United States and the Canadian province of Ontario.

    Officials there struggled Saturday to restore stable power throughout the province, but warned it could take days before everything is back to normal.

    "It is not going to be an abundance of power on Monday morning," Ontario Premier Ernie Eves said. In Toronto, it was unclear if subway service would be restored in time for the new work week on Monday.

    In midtown Manhattan, hundreds wandered about on a sticky summer day at a street fair — a typical, and welcome, scene after two days without power.

    Turgay Agrali, a tourist from Turkey, stood in the crowd with a smile, comforted by the promise of air conditioning when he returned to his hotel.

    "The first day I came was nice," he said. "The second day — blackout."

    There were still overflowing garbage cans scattered around Manhattan, but sanitation crews were working overtime through the weekend. Tons of trash had been piled on sidewalks as New Yorkers emptied their refrigerators of spoiled food.

    Consolidated Edison spokeswoman D. Joy Faber said everything was back to normal at the utility, with its system operating well.

    In Connecticut, residents heard an emergency plea from the governor to cut back on power use after a state transmission line that feeds the southwest part of the state failed early Friday.

    The call for conservation echoed across each state affected by the blackout. "If you don't turn them off, they will go off," said Long Island Power Authority Chairman Richard Kessel.

    President Bush, during a tour of a California national park Friday, said part of the problem was "an antiquated system" to distribute electricity nationally. "It's a wake-up call," he said.

    In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he received a call from Mr. Bush offering congratulations on the city's handling of the crisis. Crime in the city was actually down compared to an average evening, he said.

    "I think all New Yorkers have done their part," Bloomberg said.

    Despite plunging several of the nation's largest cities into darkness, the outage resulted in few reports of vandalism or increased violence. There were at least two U.S. fatalities.

    In Canada's capital of Ottawa, police reported 23 cases of looting, along with two deaths possibly linked to the blackout — a pedestrian hit by a car and a fire victim.

    More than 50 assembly and other plants in Canada, Ohio and Michigan operated by General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group were affected, leaving tens of thousands of workers idle.

    The restored power also left people wondering whether meat in the now-warm freezer was still good. "The sniff test is probably the most effective. When in doubt, throw it out," said Tom Heinen, co-owner of a chain of 15 Ohio supermarkets.

    A young Connecticut couple, meanwhile, was enjoying an addition to their family. They made their way through chaotic streets Thursday to Greenwich Hospital to have their first baby.

    The hospital managed the delivery with the help of generators.

    "Everyone keeps saying you'll remember where you were on the outage of 2003," said Dan O'Neill, whose wife, Kara, gave birth to a healthy baby boy early Friday morning. "It was a blackout and he has one of the blackest heads of hair I've ever seen."