Power returns for some, but new problems arise
Friday, August 15th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
Lights and air conditioners flipped on across a wide swath of the northeastern United States and southern Canada on Friday, but the creaky power grid that blacked out 50 million people encountered new problems as it struggled back to life. Three deaths were linked to the blackout.
Officials working to understand the origins of the nation's largest power outage increasingly focused on the Midwest.
Touring a national park north of Los Angeles, President Bush urged patience during the recovery and an overhaul of the power-sharing system that failed.
``It's going to take a while to get 100 percent of the power up,'' Bush said. ``It's a wake-up call. The grid needs to be modernized; the delivery systems need to be modernized. We've got an antiquated system.''
In Connecticut, Gov. John G. Rowland issued an emergency plea for residents to save power Friday morning after a state transmission line fizzled. ``There presently is insufficient capacity to remain a reliable power supply,'' John Wiltse, a spokesman for the governor, said after a transmission line that feeds southwestern Connecticut went down around 5:45 a.m.
Cleveland weathered its worst water crisis in history as the blackout shut all four major pumping stations. The pumps which serve more than 1 million residents in the city and 20 suburbs began operating Friday morning, but the National Guard tanked in 7,600 gallons of drinking water to help until taps flowed again.
The Detroit water department, which serves much of southeast Michigan, was pumping about half its usual volume as officials worked to restart pumps. Low pressure led officials to warn residents to conserve water and boil any for drinking or cooking.
In New York's Hudson Valley, Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. began rolling blackouts throughout its service area because too few plants had come back online to handle full, normal loads. The intermittent interruptions were expected to last all afternoon Friday.
In New York City, power was restored Friday morning to parts of all five boroughs and some suburbs, but millions endured a morning rush hour without subway service or many traffic lights. There was no timetable for full restoration of power, but officials said subways would not resume in time for evening rush hour.
``Today will also present challenges,'' New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters. He asked essential city workers to come in but told nonessential counterparts to stay home and urged citizens to use judgment about working Friday.
``There are worse things than taking a summer Friday off from work,'' he said.
Bloomberg said a trying, hot night had cost the life of a 40-year-old who suffered a heart attack during one of New York City's 60 serious fires, most caused by candles used to stave off darkness. There were 800 elevator rescues; 80,000 calls to 911 and a record 5,000 emergency medical service calls. Emergency personnel ``worked incredibly hard to get us through the night safely,'' Bloomberg said.
In Canada's capital, 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.
Airline passengers found canceled flights and long delays Friday.
US Airways canceled all its flights through New York's LaGuardia airport through midafternoon, and its morning flights from Detroit. American Airlines reported 183 cancellations and said service to New York City and Detroit might not resume until late Friday. Continental Airlines' Newark, N.J., hub was running, but the airline canceled several morning flights out of Cleveland. JetBlue canceled 20 flights to and from New York's Kennedy airport.
In Michigan, some customers may have to endure a weekend without electricity. Everywhere officials urged residents, businesses and travelers to cope with the inconvenience.
``This is truly one of the instances where we're all in this together,'' Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan said during a statewide address Thursday night. ``So be calm, be supportive of your neighbor.'' State workers in Michigan's capitol, Lansing, were told to report to work Friday but in harder-hit Detroit to the east, they were ordered to stay home.
While terrorism was swiftly ruled out by President Bush and other officials, there was scant indication of what had caused the outage, which began on the cusp of Thursday's afternoon rush hour in Eastern cities.
``We had some indication that the first transmission lines that were tripped were in the Midwest,'' said Michehl Gent, president of the North American Electric Reliability Council.
Gent, whose nonprofit council was formed after the 1965 Northeast blackout to promote the reliability of the bulk electric systems, backed off his initial statement that the blackout was triggered by an event in Ohio. But he said signs do point to the Lake Erie Loop power circuit, which runs from New York into Detroit and Canada, around Niagara Falls and then back down into New York.
``I hesitate to say that's the cause, but that's the center of the focus,'' Gent said. The path along Lake Erie and Lake Ontario has always been ``a big, big problem.'' On Thursday afternoon, power headed east along the line and then nine seconds later surged backward, Gent said.
New York Independent System Operator president William Museler said huge power fluctuations originating from a Midwest power plant started the downfall of the grid. He said the power swings became so large that the Ontario, Canada, system could not sustain them, and the problem migrated to New York.
The New York Independent System Operator, which runs the state's wholesale electricity market and monitors power usage, said it had detected a sudden loss of power generation at 4:11 p.m.
More generally, industry and government experts blamed a system composed of interconnected grids that has not been upgraded to meet power demands.
The disruptions were as diverse as they were widespread.
A small explosion at the Marathon Oil refinery 10 miles south of Detroit was blamed on the outage which cut power to a pump, allowing a buildup of gasses that ultimately exploded in a smokestack. No one was hurt but police fearing additional explosions or possible release of toxic gas evacuated hundreds of residents from a one-mile radius around the refinery.
In New York City, thousands of stranded commuters were forced to sleep in bus and train terminals and even in the streets. Hundreds of out-of-towners at the Marriott Marquis slept on sidewalks because the hotel did not have a generator to power its electronic room keys.
In Sudbury, Ontario, 210 miles north of Toronto, more than 100 miners at a nickel mine were stranded in underground lunchrooms because the outage halted elevators to bring them to the surface, but authorities said they were not in immediate danger because they had water and backup power was running the ventilation system.
In Cleveland, the loss of power wasn't the only problem. About 1.5 million residents faced a crisis because there was no electricity to pump water from Lake Erie. At least three Eastern suburbs were out of water and officials said Western suburbs could go dry.
With sewage treatment plants blacked out, untreated waste releases forced the closing of beaches in New York City and Cleveland.
About 540,000 customers in Ohio were without power, mostly in the Cleveland area.
In New Jersey, where more than 1 million homes and businesses lost power at the peak of the outage, all but 50,000 had been restored by 5:30 a.m. Friday and full service was expected a few hours later. Northern New Jersey commuter railroads and buses announced limited to full service Friday.
In Connecticut, where nearly 310,000 customers served by two power companies lost power, all but about 53,000 had service restored by early Friday.
But in New York, where early estimates had 80 percent of the state without power, the percentage only dropped to some 60 percent near midnight.
Despite the outages in Manhattan, New York's financial markets had no intention of shutting down.
The New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq resumed stock trading on schedule Friday morning, but the American exchange delayed trading because problems at a Consolidated Edison substation prevented air conditioning from reaching the trading floor.
However, businesses from Manhattan through the Midwest were anxious about technical glitches and more power outages a day after the biggest blackout in U.S. history.
In San Diego, the president said, ``slowly but surely we're coping with this massive, national problem,'' and added that he would order a review of ``why the cascade was so significant.''
Bush said he suspected that the nation's electrical grid would need to be modernized.
New York Gov. George Pataki praised his constituents for pulling together to help each other. While New Yorkers poured out of immobile subway cars, emerged from stuck elevators, began long walks home or rested in local establishments, one unidentified man saw beauty.
``You can actually see the stars in New York City,'' he said.