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Saturday, August 16, 2003  

News: All about the blackout

The massive Northeast power outage set a record for scope in the United States. However, as a veteran of a four-day blackout and several earthquakes, I believe those effected were lucky to an extent. The episode is surely an apt reminder of what it is like to lose things we take for granted, albeit briefly.

  • Detroit: Love thy neighbor and eat ice cream
  • As dusk fell on the nation's 10th-largest city, bus service was suspended until 3:30 a.m. Saturday, tonight's Aerosmith concert at Comerica Park was canceled, the opening of the Michigan State Fair was postponed until Saturday, and Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick urged Detroit's one million residents to stay home.

    "The party has to happen in your homes tonight," the mayor said at an afternoon news conference outside police headquarters in the eerily quiet and empty downtown. "Continue your family time. Love thy neighbor - in your own home, your own neighborhood."

    . . .Here in Detroit, residents were still stuck deep in emergency mode, scratching for a patch of shade as they gobbled the melting ice cream being given away at convenience stores.

    . . .Ford and General Motors closed 40 parts and assembly plants on Friday, giving some 100,000 workers the day off, though company officials said some factories might be running again as soon as this evening. The city's African cultural festival was canceled, but the Dream Cruise, an annual classic-car convention expected to draw two million people to a 16-mile stretch in the suburbs, was scheduled to go on Saturday, if slower than usual, because many traffic lights remained out along the route.

    If memory serves me well, it is likely the simple things -- drinking water, coffee, taking a shower -- that people missed most during the blackout.

  • Cleveland: Source of the meltdown?
  • Could the event that began a chain reaction blackout have occurred in Ohio?

    US electric industry officials said last night they had strong indications that the massive power outage that shut down New York City and much of the Northeast began with the failure of a high-voltage line near Cleveland.

    That failure was the first in a 60-minute series of breakdowns that spread blackouts across eight states and Ontario, affecting about 50 million people. The North American Electric Reliability Council, a group originally formed to prevent a recurrence of the massive 1965 Northeastern blackout, said the crisis began at 3:06 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday on a line in the "Lake Erie loop."

    Michehl R. Gent, president of the electric council, said it could take days or even months to come up with a detailed explanation of what went wrong. But Gent said the Erie loop and a gaggle of power plants that feed into it -- 22 nuclear reactors and 80 conventional plants -- are "the center of the focus" of council investigations.

    Over the space of 9 to 10 seconds at about 4:10 p.m. Thursday, Gent said, at least 12 high-voltage power lines in the loop failed, and 100 power plants almost simultaneously shut down under standard emergency precautions intended to prevent generators from swamping the crippled grid.

    Considering the liability if negligence by any of the parties can be established in this case, I don't expect a quick resolution of who or what is responsible for the blackout. Indeed, every utility or agency is going to try to avoid any hint of being blameworthy.

    Wondering how the interconnected series of hydro and nuclear power plants that failed feeds the voracious appetite for electricity of the industrial Northeast? Read all of this article (linked above) to find out.

  • Ottawa: Two deaths reported
  • Looting and blackout related deaths marred the beginning of the weekend in Ottawa.

    In Motown, they were out of gas. By the shores of Lake Erie, they were trucking in water. New Yorkers were taking pride in their good behavior, while storekeepers in Ottawa, Canada's placid capital, counted losses from a night of looting.

    In 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.

    A couple fatalities may also have been linked to the power outage in New York City, though reports of emergencies were low as more people stayed home than usual.

  • The skies: Almost empty
  • While airports in Newark, Cleveland and Detroit were operating, New York City's Kennedy and La Guardia airports had limited power and large crowds but few flights. Across the country, 1,200 flights were canceled. The hard-hit aviation industry stands to lose many millions of dollars from blackout-related flight disruptions, which could linger into next week.

    U.S. carriers are losing about $100 million in revenue every day that service is disrupted, said David Swierenga, former chief economist for the Air Travel Association and now a consultant with AeroEcon of Vienna, Va.

    Passengers will face delays until Tuesday or Wednesday as airlines reposition aircraft and shift stranded travelers to already-crowded summer flights, said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition of frequent travelers.

    It will be interesting to see how this loss of revenue impacts the depressed finances airlines have had since before September 11, 2001.

    5:02 AM