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Governor George Pataki Speaks on Power Outage

Aired August 14, 2003 - 19:17   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Governor George Pataki has already declared a state of emergency here in New York State. The governor is now speaking. He's in Albany, New York, answering reporters' questions. Let's listen in.

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI, NEW YORK: ... working with the New England independent system operator in the hopes that within hours, but I don't want to predict when, we will be able to see power begin to be restored in various parts of the state.

I just want to urge people, if they have power or if they do get power back and they're watching this or listening on the radio, to disconnect all unnecessary appliances. We're obviously going to be dealing with an emergency for some time. An to the extent people can help by reducing their demand, if they do have power, it will help us to restore power across the state as quickly as possible.

Also, as is always the case, whether it's an ice storm or other emergency, if you are comfortable in your home and know that you're OK and your family's OK, look in on your neighbors, particularly if you have senior citizens or other people with special needs, to see if you can help them out in any way.

Because the way we've always gotten through difficult times as New Yorkers, it's not just government working together at all levels, and we are. But it's been individuals helping individuals. And staying calm and not just taking care of themselves but seeing if they can reach out and help a friend, help a neighbor, help someone who might have greater needs than they do.

We are -- I am extremely confident that, just as we've been challenged in the past and come through with flying colors in a way that the rest of the country and the rest of the world have looked up to, so we will do at this time as well.

We have challenges ahead of us, obviously, with the fact that the power will not be restored instantaneously. But we're going to meet those challenges. The government will be there, the local governments will be there. Most importantly, New Yorkers will be there and I'm confident we're going to come through this again strong, shoulder to shoulder, as New Yorkers.


QUESTION: Are you concerned when it gets dark, what might happen? Populated areas?

PATAKI: I'll tell you, New Yorkers respond to crisis by helping each other, by acting responsibly. And I just believe that that will be the case tonight.

We're prepared to help local governments. We're prepared to help the city. But I think New Yorkers are going to respond the way we always do. And that is to understand that a crisis is a time to help others.

QUESTION: How many people are without power?

PATAKI: I don't want to give a number. But well over half the people of the state are without power. I don't want to put on number on it. But Bill Flynn? What would you say is the number? More than half. We don't have a specific number.

Nineteen million population.

A very significant percentage.


PATAKI: We don't know what the cause was. But it clearly shows that the grid system didn't work the way it's supposed to. We had this northeast outage back, I guess, in the '60s. And it wasn't supposed to happen again. It has happened again. And there have to be some tough questions asked as to why.

Part of the system did work well. The tripping of the power plants, as I understand it, as they have been disconnected and shut down, has gone exceptionally well. The power plants have not been disabled, have not been damaged. There was a report of smoke at a Con Ed facility in New York City. That was an anticipated part of an orderly shut down.

So we are unaware of any damage to the plants themselves. They did trip and become deactivated in an orderly and far better way than was the case in the '60s. But it shouldn't have happened in the first place.

QUESTION: There is a need for a second (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to be passed by the legislature?

PATAKI: A lot of it is simply dependent on the grid, on where the capacity to generate exists without jeopardizing the plant because of incompatibilities within the grid. So that some areas will be able to have power, some will be able to come back sooner than others.

But we're trying to be very careful to get it back as quickly as possible but in a way where there is no damage to the system and that we will bring it back in a way that allows to have long-term confidence in the operations of the system.

QUESTION: Does should show a need for...

QUESTION: ... working on this (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

PATAKI: No, not at all, no. We are -- the city and the state and all the local officials are prepared and ready to respond if there's any call made. And as I said now twice, there have been no unanswered requests for assistance, whether it's power generating.

We do have emergency generating capacity at the state emergency management office and in the National Guard. The National Guard units that have that power generating capacity have been activated, as have others. But there is no call.

We have had some calls. Some counties have requested generating assistance and we've provided those.

QUESTION: Does that show we need to answer the capacity here in New York and (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

PATAKI: Clearly to me, it has always been important that we have sitting capacity and generating capacity within New York State. And power authority has done just a tremendous job, and thank God for some of the plants we've been able to get up and running over the last few years. But obviously having a stronger law that would allow utilities to build and site plants in New York quickly is important. And I would urge that that be done.

QUESTION: Two questions. Is there any reports of deaths or injuries?

PATAKI: I have not heard of any at this point.

QUESTION: Can you tell us, maybe you know about the prospects for restoring power in New York City. An hour?

PATAKI: I don't want to speculate. I just don't want to. I know everybody's working very hard on it. And as I said, the plants themselves the integrity of the system, was protected during the shutdown of the grid itself. So we're hopeful that because of that, when the grid is ready, we'll be able to bring the plants up relatively quickly.

Bill, is that correct?


QUESTION: mayor Bloomberg said in the last hour or so that you offered the National Guard to go to New York City. He says he thinks that he's going to take care of everything there. Do you think that there's still a need for that, with nightfall?

PATAKI: I have confidence in the mayor's judgment and New York City Police Department is the best in the world. And if they believe that they have it under control, I have absolute confidence that they do.

We're just there as a backup. Not just to New York City but to any municipality that feels it needs help. We have right now more than 2,000 state police on active duty and we have others on standby. And we're communicating with local officials.

But this is a great state. We have great, great teamwork and tremendous experience in handling emergencies. And I'm confident we'll handle this as well as we have the ones in the past.

QUESTION: Where were you when it went out?


PATAKI: Yes, they have. They went through an orderly shutting down as the grid itself was shutting down.

QUESTION: Governor, where were you when...?


PATAKI: I don't want to project. I think that will depend on the grid, as well as the ability to bring the plants up.

QUESTION: Governor, where were you when the lights went out?

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) level of emergency experience by Californians who are (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

PATAKI: We have, as I said, I only have heard some reports that the origin was out of Ontario, Canada. But we really don't know at this point the cause for this.

But we do know that in New York State and in our capacity, we had adequate capacity. We showed it two years ago when we had the 110- degree heat wave in New York City and on Long Island we were able to meet the demand.

So I don't want to predict the consequence of this failure of the regional grid. But our system, we know, is sound and has capacity.

QUESTION: Is there any special (UNINTELLIGIBLE) taking action?

PATAKI: We have been at a level of alert that has included significant security along the borders and at airports and at other ports of -- possible paths of entry and we will continue to be there.

QUESTION: Where were you when the lights went out?

PATAKI: I was in the Adirondacks on vacation.

QUESTION: There is a chance that the lights won't be turn back on tonight?

PATAKI: I don't want to speculate on that. Everybody's doing their best to try to get them back on as soon as practical.

QUESTION: At the stock exchange, is there any indication they will or won't be open tomorrow?

PATAKI: I don't know at this point. I know they have their independent generating capacity. What they'll do tomorrow, you'll have to hear from them.

QUESTION: ... most (UNINTELLIGIBLE) back to work tomorrow? Approximate.

PATAKI: Assuming we have reasonable restoration of power, yes.


PATAKI: I don't want to predict.


PATAKI: I don't have any detailed information as to how long to get power restored or to the regional grid is back and up operating efficiently.

QUESTION: But right now it looks like a transmission problem?

PATAKI: I don't want to speculate. I've just heard reports that indicated that that may have been the case from Ontario, Canada. But there is no hard and fast information that the cause has been conclusively established yet.

QUESTION: Reports from where?

PATAKI: Hydroelectric plants are doing fine. In fact, shortly after the power outage, more than half the power in the state was being generated by NIPA, the New York power authority, a lot of that through hydroelectric power. There's still power coming out of Niagara Falls, generating there, and other hydroelectric plants.

QUESTION: You said reports; you've heard reports. From where?

PATAKI: We've talked with officials at every level, from the White House on down. But I don't want to -- to the extent that there is a conclusive determination as to cause, I'm sure others would ask that.

QUESTION: Is it official reports or reports from television?

PATAKI: No, not from television. Communications. But no one is sure.

QUESTION: of the total power consumed in New York State, can you say or maybe Mr. Flynn, how much is coming in from hydro?

PATAKI: We just don't know at this point.

QUESTION: Can you explain why the power plants that are (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

PATAKI: I'll try. But that's a question that obviously I asked, as well. And the reason is that the power grid is not just a plant to a local regional user. It is connected to a regional grid. So that power sometimes will be transmitted from that plant to other parts of the regional grid. And power from other parts will be transmitted to the region.

So that just to start up that plant runs the risk of damaging the plant if the entire regional grid all of a sudden either has over- demand or a sudden surge of supply. So that we have to be careful that we start up in a way that doesn't risk damaging plants that have gone through this orderly process of being shut down.

QUESTION: Have you or your aides talked to Tom Ridge?

PATAKI: We've talked with homeland security. We've talked with the White House. We've talked with almost all the appropriate officials that you'd think we would have. And there's no speculation as to any terrorist-related cause at this point.


PATAKI: I wish I could sit here and say that at a certain time, this part of the state will have power. We can't do that. We are working very hard. Hopefully hours. How many hours, I don't know. But certainly in all likelihood not minutes.

And part of the reason some areas have power and others don't is that when there is limited capacity, some of the utilities have been doing rolling blackouts. So that they restore power to an area for a period of time and then restore power to other areas. Which from experience shows that rather than just that one area that has power all the time, that is the most effective way to deal with what is a temporary shortage in power.

QUESTION: Governor, the temperatures tomorrow are supposed to be...



PATAKI: People should not, tonight, if they get power back, they should not use any unnecessary appliances, and tomorrow, if they have power -- this is not just tonight, tomorrow, unless there's something we're not anticipating now, people should be very, very reluctant to turn on an appliance unless there is some real health need. We don't want people, and air conditioners are something that people should very, very -- think, think, at least twice before turning them on and if they do, turn them on at a much higher temperature than would ordinarily be the case. And unless there is some health concern, and unless there's a significant restoration of power beyond what we know of at this point, people should be reluctant to turn them on at all.

Let me just, again, thank you for being here. I think it's important that the people of New York know that all government levels are working closely together to make sure power is restored as quickly as possible. There are no unmet needs for many communities at this point and the state and the localities are prepared to respond to any needs.

If individuals have an emergency they should call 911. The system is working. If a local municipality, or government has needs they should contact their county emergency command office because we are in constant communication with them, and we will be in constant communication 24 hours a day throughout the night. Thank you very much.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: We have been listening -- and you saw the final seconds there -- of a news conference of the New York governor, George Pataki, who has declared a state of emergency in his state, discussing the effect on New York state of this massive electrical power outage today that affected, he said, more than half of the state of New York, a state of 19 million people. More than a half dozen other cities in the United States affected by this. Also affected, at least three cities in Canada. Officials trying to bring the power back on. They are report some progress in that effort. They also are still trying to answer the question as to how this happened.


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