Canadians struggle with blackout across Ontario

Friday, August 15th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

TORONTO (AP) _ Electricity slowly returned Friday to Canada's largest city and other areas of Ontario hit by the region's huge power outage, but officials warned of rolling blackouts and urged people to use as little power as possible.

Police in Toronto and Ottawa, the capital, reported scattered looting, ``smash and grab'' robberies and other crime during the night of darkened streets. Authorities advised people to stay home if possible Friday to ease the burden on communities struggling to restore services.

Ontario Premier Ernie Eves said electricity generation was at 50 percent capacity Friday morning and expected to reach two-thirds capacity by the end of the day.

Eves has declared a state of emergency in Canada's most populous province after the blackout hit Thursday afternoon across a swath of southern Ontario where most of the 10 million residents live _ the same time power went out in New York, Cleveland and a wide swathe of the northeast United States.

But much like U.S. cities, Toronto and other Canadian cities appeared to handle the sudden disruption with relative calm.

Most people made it home, many by walking due to a halt in subway and street car service, and gridlock caused by the lack of working traffic lights was eased by people serving as impromptu traffic police.

``We're all pleased with the actions of Torontonians and their response,'' Deputy Mayor Case Ootes told a morning news conference.

In Toronto, police made 38 arrests linked to the blackout and reported 114 incidents, mostly for looting and other thefts, said Constable Mike Hayles. The city fire department received more than 1,400 calls, with five substantial fires reported.

Ottawa police reported 23 cases of looting, along with two deaths possibly attributed to the outage _ a pedestrian hit by a car and a fire victim.

The blackout meant cancellations for travelers, with Air Canada canceling all flights until mid-afternoon Friday due to a loss of emergency power in its Toronto operation center.

``The situation is still somewhat fragile,'' airline spokeswoman Laura Cooke said of the problem at Canada's biggest airport. ``The operation system is here in Toronto but it affects flights across the system.''

Ontario Hydro official Al Manchee said the utility would use rolling blackouts throughout Friday to prevent surges as power is restored, while Eves said factories and businesses that use lots of electricity were asked to remain closed Friday to ease the demand.

``Clearly our first priority is to restore power,'' he said.

Officials also pleaded with people to conserve electricity as much as possible.

``Power conservation remains critical,'' said the province's public safety and security minister, Bob Runciman, adding that ``it's absolutely vital that everyone do their part to save energy and help the province through this emergency.''

Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman said people should avoid using air conditioners and dishwashers, and urged everyone to get a flashlight rather than relying on candles because of the fire risk.

Referring to the forced confinement in dark homes, Lastman joked: ``I guess in nine months we're going to see the biggest baby boom we've ever seen.''

The blackout in Canada stretched all the way from Windsor, across the border from Detroit, to Ottawa, on the eastern edge of Ontario. The outage did not extend beyond Lake Superior to northwestern Ontario.

In Sudbury, 210 miles north of Toronto, more than 100 miners at a nickel mine spent the night in underground lunchrooms because the outage halted elevators to bring them to the surface. They were brought to the surface when power was restored Friday morning.

On Nov. 9, 1965, a blackout struck the northeastern United States and parts of Canada, leaving 30 million people in the dark. It took six days for investigators to find the cause: a single faulty relay at an electrical station in Ontario, according to the Blackout History Project, a Web site published by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.

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