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CNN BREAKING NEWS

About 15 Million People Still Without Electricity

Aired August 15, 2003 - 06:02   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: About 15 million people are still without electricity this morning. They're in the Canadian cities of Ottawa and Toronto, on down into Albany, New York, and New York City, of course, Newark, New Jersey, west to Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland and Erie, Pennsylvania.
Now to Times Square. It just isn't the same without all of those lights. Gary Tuchman is there.

But some of the lights are going on, but not many, right -- Gary?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, we can tell you that morning has broken, and so it's hard to tell what lights are going on right now. It's starting to get light outside. But we can tell you, because it is morning officially now, New York City survived the night very well, and that's very encouraging news.

There were a lot of police on the streets. We've been told by New York City police officials that normally there are 1,000 to 2,000 police officers patrolling the five boroughs that make up New York City every night, and last night, 9,500. So, you're talking seven to eight times more than normal. But, according to the police, there were only four burglaries in this entire city of eight million in the overnight hours without any power whatsoever.

Now, in the next few hours we may learn there were more than four burglaries, but either way, it was very quiet. And as we traveled the streets and our crews traveled through Manhattan and through the Bronx and through Brooklyn, we saw none of what many of us saw back in 1977, when there was immense looting in this city and fear just drove these streets -- a lot different this time around.

We come to you from Times Square. I've stood here five or six years on December 31 announcing to the world when the ball drops right on top of that tower right there. And you can see here in Times Square this is an area where the lights have not returned yet, and that's why the screens that normally have TV pictures and advertisements haven't returned yet.

But north of here, much of Manhattan now has its power back. According to officials, 25 percent of New York City and Westchester County, which is a suburban area north of New York City, now has its power back -- Carol.

COSTELLO: You know, Gary, I was just wondering, New Yorkers took this so calmly, but after all is said and done, they're going to wonder who was responsible. Who do they think? TUCHMAN: Everyone has an opinion in New York City, there's no question about it. And right now, people don't know who is responsible.

And one very interesting thing. Back in 1977 -- you know, they had the blackout here in 1965; then 12 years later in 1977. And then over the years, we journalists have done anniversary pieces on the great blackout of '77, and one of the things officials have always told us is it could not happen again. Things are set up differently, and nothing like this would ever happen again, and here it is happening again.

COSTELLO: Whoops!

TUCHMAN: So, that's why a lot of New Yorkers are wondering, how did it happen again?

COSTELLO: I think we should replay those sound bytes.

TUCHMAN: That's right. Maybe we will later, Carol.

COSTELLO: Exactly. Not many people will probably be coming into the city, because frankly it's hard to get there right now and the streets look empty where you are. But the interesting thing you said in your last live shot was a block away there are lights; where you're standing, there are not.

TUCHMAN: Right, right. We are actually right here in the heart of Times Square on 47th Street. When you go to 51st Street, which is just four blocks to the north of here, a fifth of a mile, that's where the lights start. Now, it's hard to tell because it's daylight, but at 4:15 Eastern Time, literally 12 hours and 4 minutes after the power went out, we were just staring down the streets and we saw those lights turn back on.

So, that was certainly reassuring to a lot of New Yorkers, who then started coming to Times Square knowing that this is the brightest part of New York City, saying, OK, let's see the lights, and the lights still haven't come on here yet.

COSTELLO: I know, the poor tourists -- that's one of the greatest places to see in New York City. All right, Gary Tuchman, reporting live for us from Times Square this morning.

As Gary said, power is gradually being restored to some. At the height of the outage, countless numbers of New York subway passengers were trapped underground and had to be rescued. In fact, some are still sleeping in Penn Station this morning. Officials say even if the lights come back on this morning, the subways will not be operating during the morning rush.

Drivers trying to get out of the city probably felt they also needed to be rescued. They were stuck in long lines of traffic for literally hours. Here's a birds-eye view of the mess.

Traffic was also an issue in Hartford, Connecticut, where the power was out. However, two-thirds of the electricity is back on now in Connecticut, leaving about 100,000 customers in the dark this morning. Officials say they expect 99.9 percent restoration by noon today.

Cleveland, Ohio, also making good progress in getting the power back on, but water is the big worry. About a million people still face a crisis because there's not enough electricity to pump water from Lake Eria (ph) -- from Lake Erie, rather.

And in Detroit, people were lining up outside of an ice company. Utility officials say it could be the end of the weekend before their power system is back to normal.

So, it's been about 13-14 hours since the power went out, and we still don't know exactly why. U.S. officials ruled out terrorism and a computer worm as causes.

In Toronto, the Canadian defense minister, John McCallum, blamed a power outage at a nuclear plant in Ohio. McCallum attributed his claim to U.S. military officials.

But U.S. officials and power system managers had no confirmation of a source of the outage. They still don't know what caused it this morning.

Certainly, many were amazed, though, at how calmly New Yorkers are taking this major inconvenience. No looting in the city, no fights. The governor there didn't need to say it, but he did anyway.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI, NEW YORK: We're just asking you to do what New Yorkers always do, and that is to stand together to respond as we do to crisis with calm and confidence, help each other out. If you do have power back, cut back as much as possible on your power usage. We want to be able to use that power to restore it to other parts -- other customers in other parts of the state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: In the wake of the blackout, President Bush also said communication among federal, local and state officials has been quick and thorough. The president adds that America is better organized today than two years ago to deal with this kind of thing. And the president's message to everyone affected by the power outage: hold on, help is coming.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a serious situation. But the people whose lives have been affected need to know there is a lot of people working to enable them to get on about their lives in a normal way, and hopefully electricity will be restored soon. I can't tell you exactly when, but I know a lot of people are working overtime to get it done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: North of our border, take a look at the skyline of Canada's largest city, Toronto. Overnight, workers managed to restore power to major sections of the downtown area. Still, power remains out in some areas as far west as Windsor.

The U.S. power grid system is divided into three regions. The western and the Texas sections are unaffected by the outage. But the eastern section in Quebec's so-called interconnect systems remain affected this morning, and for some areas power may not be restored until this weekend.

Oh, we have a live shot for you now. Michael Okwu live from New York on the phone.

Where exactly are you -- Michael?

MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, I am outside of City Hall, where I am seeing the first shreds of light since yesterday, and that is only because the sun, of course, is coming up over Manhattan very slowly. There are reports that some of the power is coming back in some of the boroughs here in New York -- the South Bronx, parts of South Brooklyn and parts of Manhattan. But I can personally tell you...

COSTELLO: Michael...

OKWU: Yes.

COSTELLO: Michael, I'm sorry to interrupt you. The mayor -- Mayor Jane Campbell of Cleveland is speaking now to reporters. We want to go live to Cleveland and listen in.

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