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Northeast Recovering from Massive Blackout

Aired August 15, 2003 - 19:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And a good evening to you. Welcome from Times Square in New York, often called the cross roads of the world. The lights are back on here in Times Square. Elsewhere in New York, though, they have not.
The city has come back to life, not exactly come back to normal yet. A long way from being back to normal, as a matter of fact.

We're going to start this hour with a status check of places both here in New York and around the country. We start Richard Roth joins us live in New York. John Zarrella is in Cleveland, Ohio. Lisa Leiter is in a small town, Saline, Michigan and Ali Velshi is at one of the vital points in the power grid near Niagara Falls, New York.

We have reporters all around. Let's go to Richard Roth here in New York.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a typical Friday evening here on New York's west side. But there's one big difference: there's a Red Cross disaster services truck behind me.

New York recovering from its biggest blackout ever. Trains shut down. The airports, the airlines a mess. Bus service impossible. People still trying to get out of Manhattan. But power is slowly returning to most of Manhattan at this time.

For more on another city hit by the blackout here's John Zarrella in Cleveland.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Richard, the power is back on, the water is running but the people have to boil it before they can drink it at least until Sunday. That's a precaution against possible contamination.

Lisa Lighter is in Saline, Michigan, with more -- Lisa.


Well, here the power is slowly coming back on along the main drag here in Saline. Businesses are starting to reopen their doors and people are finally going to get some air conditioning after 24 hours without it.

Later on we'll have a tale of this town and also another nearby town that had to deal with the blackout in a very different way.

Now let's go to Ali Velshi. He's in Niagara Falls -- Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lisa, Friday night in the loop usually means a nice time in downtown Toronto. But not tonight.

I really am in the loop. We're in western New York one mile away from Niagara Falls, 40 miles from the beginning and the end of the Erie Loop.

Turning the lights on this community has not taken them out of the darkness. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: All right; thanks very much. We're going to check in with all our reporters a little bit later on in the program.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that a lot of New Yorkers, if they didn't have to go to work today, really shouldn't. They should treat today like a hot snow day.

For a lot of New Yorkers the past 24 hours have not been like a day off. It certainly was not a normal day here in the city. Call it the day of the big blackout hangover. Let's take a look at the last 24 hours.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think something may have just tripped the power grid or something. Nothing to worry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunately, we're all stuck together so let's all be happy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: See everybody almost panicking and it's -- wow. It's creepy.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY: There is no evidence of any terrorism whatsoever. There was power failure in northern New York.

MAYOR JANE CAMPBELL, CLEVELAND: We have asked the state to declare a state of emergency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As you can see people have been here for several hours. The bar has started selling beers here shortly after the blackout for $2.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn't very comfortable. A little hot for awhile. And of course sleeping on the sidewalk is not exactly all that pleasant.

BLOOMBERG: If we are patient and understanding I think we'll all get through today, and the weekend will give us time to put everything right back to order. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: It has truly been an extra ordinary past 27 hours or so in New York City as it has been in many places throughout the United States and in Canada, as well.

The big question, you heard it a lot on the streets of New York whispered in darkness, you heard a lot on the streets today, the question just about on everyone's mind is "How did this happen?"

Kelli Arena has that.


KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Experts have stopped speculating. Simply won't know what caused the blackout for days. The people in the blackout states want answers now.

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI, NEW YORK: Why did this happen and why did the safeguards that were supposed to have been put in place after the '65 blackout and after the '75 (sic) blackouts not work?

ARENA: The experts investigating the problem also don't know why the outages stopped, but they do know when and where they started.

KYLE MCSLARROW, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF ENERGY: If we're right it looks like this all started at about 3:06 Eastern daylight time. What we're calling 14:06. So this started with a loss of a 345,000 volt line in the Cleveland area.

ARENA: That's part of the so-called Lake Erie power loop that experts say has been a long-time problem.

Starting in Niagara Falls near Buffalo, power in the loop flows clockwise down into New York, around to Cleveland, Detroit, into Canada and then back into the U.S.

Officials say power was flowing west to east along the line, where there was a dramatic and intense reversal. Then the outages started.

But why did a computerized system designed to contain a major problem allow power losses to spread across the Northeastern U.S. and Canada?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very technical and very complex. So it's one of the reasons why we shouldn't be leaping to conclusions. I mean, we need to figure it out.

ARENA: The Department of Energy initially is going to have to rely on industry to find the cause, because private companies control most of the nation's power lines.

Industry officials are concerned a company may have broken what are now only voluntary rules on transferring power in a system already running close to the edge. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm very disappointed that we've had this outage. This is designed so we don't have this outage. It's not supposed to happen but it did.


ARENA: As the industry continues its investigation, the United States and Canada will set up a joint task force to look into the incident and it won't stop there. Members of Congress are calling for hearings and governors in affected states want guarantees that residents will not see this again -- Anderson.

COOPER: Is there any sense of how long it is going to take before that question can be answered? How did this happen?

ARENA: Well, we spoke to the people conducting the investigation today and they do expect to have some answer by early next week, Anderson. They may not have all of the details, but they think that they'll have a pretty firm grip by Monday or Tuesday and then we'll continue from there providing more and more details to fill in the blanks.

COOPER: All right. I know about eight million New Yorkers who definitely want some answers. Kelli Arena, thank you very much tonight.

Well, sunset is almost upon us here. The sun is just setting a little bit. I don't know if you can tell. We're live in Times Square where the lights are on.

Want to find out what the scene was like in New York throughout the city today. Richard Roth joins us with the latest -- Richard.

ROTH: Anderson, right now I'm in front of what is usually bustling Pennsylvania Station. But you have a lot of people sitting around. The board was shut down. Almost all trains canceled. New York City subways are not operating right now. The earliest full operation would be tomorrow.

It was a mess all around. But I think because the weekend was looming, it kind of eased some of the frustration. But just like we saw with September 11, it was a split city. Uptown in Manhattan had more electricity return while downtown was still in the dark.

Overall, though, it was just another time for asking, "Where were you when the lights went out?"


ROTH (voice-over): The third time was not the charm. New York City's third major blackout in nearly 40 years turned into the longest and stickiest ever.

PATAKI: Why did the system that was supposed to have the security and the safeguards fail? Not just in New York but in most of the Northeast, throughout Ontario, and much of the Midwest? ROTH: New Yorkers awoke to find the lights were not back yet in every home.

Battle hardened, especially after 9/11, people in Manhattan lined up for a morning jolt of caffeine to handle this latest calamity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Got to get a cup of coffee.

BLOOMBERG: What we did learn was that if you prepare and if you practice and if you work out jointly the protocols of who does what when you have an emergency, it does work. That's what we showed last night. Things on balance almost 100 percent.

ROTH: Thousands slept out for the evening, on post office and courthouse steps and in parks. There were few reports of any looting, though more fires were started because of misuse of candles.

But restoration of power took time. More than a million people were still in the dark at the end of Friday. Transportation was clobbered. Amtrak and commuter rail lines canceled trains. The New York City subway remains shut down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was some sporadic service.

ROTH: Some airlines told passengers they were flying but passengers at La Guardia Airport went nowhere.

Many finally managed to get off Manhattan Island on Friday, some by bus or ferry to New Jersey.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Basically I had no cash so I didn't have enough money to get to the airport, so I missed my flight when I was trying to get cash.

ROTH: The blackout cost businesses. Those selling food had lost the juice.

When it came to electricity in New York, it was location, location, location. On Ninth Avenue women were getting their nails done in this salon while the store next door was closed.

Blackouts slammed shut automatic bank machines and caused long lines for gasoline.


ROTH: Right now 85 percent of the city's customers have power. A few hours ago it was only 50 percent. If you could get away from New York City, many New Yorkers took that opportunity.

But for the future, for the end of summer, people are going to be pondering a hot, muggy and a very uncertain, unnerving atmosphere -- Anderson.

COOPER: Richard, I'm not complaining, but I'll point out I'm one of the 15 percent who does not yet have power. But hopefully it will come back up soon. Richard Roth, thanks very much from New York City.

I don't know how many of you at home have been to New York but the lifeblood to the city is the subway system. It runs underneath, in most parts of the city, underneath the streets. It's cheap, economical way, convenient way to get around. But when the lights go off, the power fails, it is into the pleasant place to be.

Our next guest joining us right now, Todd Doonopane -- got his name right; we were worried about that -- was snuck a subway in New York for, what, about 45 minutes or so?

TODD DOONOPANE: Forty-five minutes to an hour.

COOPER: Todd has not been home. He has not been able to change since yesterday. We appreciate, Todd, you coming out and visiting us.

DOONOPANE: No problem.

COOPER: How bad was it? The lights go out in the subway. What happened?

DOONOPANE: Well, the subway stopped very quickly. I thought somebody pulled the emergency brake. The lights went out and then other lights came back on and everyone just started laughing because when service screws up in New York, it's just it's New York. But...

COOPER: After a while they stopped?

DOONOPANE: Then it got really hot. And we heard an announcement through the subway that the power was out on the Broadway line. And that's all we thought.

And then on the street we started hearing sirens and beeping and everyone started to get really scared. And there was a woman across from me that just started crying and some people started demanding to get out. And I just kept myself calm by being the person that was calming other people, I guess. But...

COOPER: But I mean there was a sense of growing -- I mean as the minutes tick by it's harder and harder to stay calm?

DOONOPANE: Yes. And we were just getting progressively hotter. You know, everyone was just pouring sweat.

COOPER: You're stuck underground. And I mean, visibility is not that great in the heat. It's just got to be...

DOONOPANE: And people were going in between cars and holding their cell phones up, trying to get service and you could see, like, little peeks of life.

COOPER: Were people talking? I mean, often in these situations New Yorkers sort of band together at times.

DOONOPANE: Well, we sat there silent for a little while and finally people started talking to each other and checking in with other people to see if they were OK. You know, the woman across from me that was crying when she started to really react people were checking on her.

COOPER: As a lifelong New Yorker I'm impressed: a) that the PA system actually worked in the subway.

DOONOPANE: Seriously.

COOPER: And that there was actually a conductor who came by and gave you some information.

DOONOPANE: Yes. Well, they came through every car and spoke to us. The MTA employees were really great.

COOPER: How did you finally get out?

DOONOPANE: Well, after people demanded for awhile -- and they didn't want to let us out because they didn't know how serious it was, so they finally figured out that this was serious blackout. So they opened one door that led off to a drain shelf where the rain drains and we climbed up a ladder and came out of a grating on the sidewalk on 52nd Street.

COOPER: You popped out of a random sidewalk?

DOONOPANE: Yes. It wasn't hard for me but there were, like, older people there and, you know, we were all helping each other out.

COOPER: How would you try to calm -- you said you tried to comfort people. What would you say to them? What could you say?

DOONOPANE: You just say -- I mean, we didn't know what was going on. It could have been what everyone was thinking, a terrorist attack. But you just explain to people that it's not; it's just a power outage. It's just a power outage.

COOPER: Is that what -- when the first -- I mean, when the lights went off and you heard that there was some sort of a blackout?

DOONOPANE: It was the sirens up above that made us think that. And there were probably sirens because all the streetlights were out and there were -- police were trying to get around to make sure no accidents were happening. But we didn't know. We just knew what we heard.

COOPER: Subways are still out. Are you going to be able to get home tonight?

DOONOPANE: Well, you nice CNN people are getting me a car home to Queens.

COOPER: All right. That's good to know. But you haven't been home in 24 hours. Do you know if you have power?

DOONOPANE: I have heard that Queens actually has power.

COOPER: All right. And maybe you can take a shower, maybe.

DOONOPANE: Yes. Absolutely.

COOPER: All right. Thank you very much.

DOONOPANE: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Todd Doonopane.

Well, coming up next, we had head to Washington. There wasn't a blackout but we're expecting plenty of political fallout for all of this.

We'll also ask an expert what terrorists may have just learned about America's soft spots.

And we'll also see how big cities and small towns outside of New York City are coping with the power outage.

A lot still ahead. Stay with us. We are live from New York.


COOPER: Welcome back. We are live in New York City.

I want to show you two pictures from space that really tells a story of the big blackout in a unique way.

This is what it looks like on a normal night. I'm going to show you another picture from space, the same view, from last night. What a difference a day makes.

All right. We are live in Times Square, where as I've said earlier the lights are coming back on. But they're not back on everywhere in New York City. My apartment still without power. About 15 percent of people in New York City do not have power.


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