Major power outage hits New York, other large cities
Thursday, August 14, 2003 Posted: 9:31 PM EDT (0131 GMT)
NEW YORK (CNN) -- A major power outage struck simultaneously across dozens of cities in the eastern United States and Canada late Thursday afternoon.
Cities affected included New York; Cleveland, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Toronto and Ottawa, Canada.
In just three minutes, starting at 4:10 p.m., 21 power plants shut down, according to Genscape, a company that monitors the output of power plants.
It was unclear what caused the outage, although officials said it was not terrorism.
One possibility was a lightning strike in the Niagara region on the U.S. side of the border, according to the Canadian Department of National Defense.
A spokesman for the Canadian prime minister's office said the cause was a fire at a Con Edison power plant in New York.
The outage stopped trains, elevators and the normal flow of traffic and life. In Michigan, water supplies were affected because water is distributed through electric pumps, a governor's spokeswoman said.
By 6 p.m. the power was being restored in parts of the affected area, starting with the northern and western edges, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news conference.
New York subways resumed limited service around 8 p.m., according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. It took 2.5 hours to evacuate passengers from stalled subway trains, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said.
Airports across the affected region experienced delays and some shut down temporarily. By early evening, two New York area airports and the Cleveland airport were fully operational, although continued delays should be expected. Planes were still grounded at New York's JFK Airport as of 8:30 p.m.
The airports were operating on backup power, officials said. "Expect extended flight delays and long wait times," a United Airlines spokesman said.
"We will be starting up power in the city. It will take a decent amount of time -- hours, not minutes, and nobody really can be any more specific than that," Bloomberg said.
A spokesman for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said the agency has been told by the North American Electric Reliability Council that the power outage has been "contained."
The New York Stock Exchange announced plans to open on schedule Friday, using emergency power, if necessary.
Bloomberg mobilized 40,000 police officers and the entire fire department overnight to maintain order. As of late afternoon, no reports of looting or other disturbances had been reported.
New York Gov. George Pataki declared a state of emergency for the state and deployed additional state police.
Commuters walk up the ramp to the Queensborough Bridge in New York.
Bryan Lee, a spokesman for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said based on preliminary information it appeared that a "cascading blackout" destabilized the Niagara-Mohawk power grid as far north as Canada and as far west as Detroit and Cleveland.
Government officials said quickly ruled out the "Blaster" computer worm as a cause. The worm was spreading from computer to computer Wednesday and was initially considered a potential cause.
The outage did slow the Internet, however, because Web sites powered from servers in affected cities were unable to respond to requests to view the pages. Also, experts said, the Internet may be trying to reroute itself to cover for unresponsive servers.
The 21 plants went off line because when the grid is down there is no place for the power output to go. Unlike coal or natural gas, electricity is difficult to store. Power is used as it is generated.
At least 1.5 million people in central and northern New Jersey were without power late Thursday and there was no train service for homebound commuters.
Amtrak stopped all trains leaving the New York city area, said spokesman Marc Magliari.
The north-south trains were not running north of Philadelphia, Magliari said. But the Empire line in New York State, the East-West lines to Harrisburg-Lancaster in Pennsylvania, and the Washington, D.C.-Chicago runs were all operating normally.
A Miami International Airport employee, left, attempts to address concerns of travelers after their flight to LaGuardia and Newark Airports were cancelled.
Amtrak operations are also shut down in Michigan between Detroit and Dearborn, Michigan, and Pontiac, Michigan.
Emergency officials were trying to expedite transport of commuters from New York City by ferry across the Hudson River. Traffic signals were rendered inoperable, and emergency officials urged motorists to stay off the roads.
The New York City Police Department said a number of people were trapped in elevators for awhile. Thousands of people left buildings and walked into the streets.
"We are going to have a situation where people are going to have to walk a long distance. They need to be careful," Bloomberg said. "Our advice is to go home, open up your windows, drink a lot of liquids."
The last big blackout in the United States took place almost exactly seven years ago, August 11, 1996, when some 4 million customers in nine Western states and parts of Mexico lost power for as long as 10 hours.
In 1977, a blackout left some 9 million people in New York City without power for up to 25 hours starting on July 13.
In what was called the Great Northeast Blackout of 1965, about 25 million people in New York, New England and portions of Pennsylvania lost electricity for a day starting late in the afternoon of November 9.
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Highlights indicate states or provinces that have been affected by power outages.