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Power Knocked Out in Huge Slices of America

Aired August 15, 2003 - 19:40   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back to New York's Times Square. I'm Anderson Cooper. We're broadcasting live at the place often called the crossroads of the world, where power has been restored, at least in this part of New York.
But as you know, many of you know firsthand, the blackout is not just a New York story. Outages stretch from the Northeast, to the Midwest, all the way into Canada.

We want to go back to our reporters, who are all over the United States right now, stationed in other cities, to see how people there are coping at this hour.

Our John Zarrella is in Cleveland, Lisa Leiter is in Saline, Michigan, and Ali Velshi is in Niagara, New York.

John, we're going to start off with you. John Zarrella.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, well, as you can see, the lights are back on, the traffic lights are back on. Businesses have begun to open up here. The gas station is working. That came back to life a little bit this afternoon.

The governor's office says that at its peak, a million people were without power in the Cleveland and surrounding areas. Most all of that power is back on this evening.

Water has been the biggest problem here. Four giant pumping stations that pump water into Cleveland and the surrounding areas from Lake Erie were, of course, knocked offline when the power went out. They're back up and running tonight. But people are being told they've got to boil the water before they can use it, at least until Sunday.

But with all that, the people here say they're coping just fine.


ZARRELLA (voice-over): Three-year-old Owen Mani kept cool playing outside on his skateboard. His mom, Bethany, and friends hung out on the upstairs porch. It was too hot to be indoors.

BETHANY MANI, LAKEWOOD RESIDENT: Oh, it's definitely been something to adjust to. It's like going back to the old times, having to readjust your life. ZARRELLA: Late Friday afternoon, the Lakewood suburb of Cleveland was still without power in some spots. But 10 minutes down the road, the Carriage Car Wash was open for business. The power was on, and the water was running, but business was slow.

DAVE MCGLYNN, CARWASH OWNER: It cost us about 50 percent of our business today, just because people aren't sure whether we have water.

ZARRELLA: Water is the greatest concern in Cleveland. Although it's back on, people are being told to boil it as a precaution against contamination. For Holiday Inn general manager Todd Middleton, that meant buying 40 bags of ice. The restaurant has an icemaker and power, but they can't use it, because it draws from city water.

TODD MIDDLETON, HOTEL GENERAL MANAGER: We have a lot of people here that came in last night, stranded, and we just got to accommodate them the best they -- we can.

ZARRELLA: They're boiling water, too, for everything from instant coffee to iced tea. And while people can't drink from the tap, they could still water their lawns.


ZARRELLA: Now, the National Guard has brought in a couple of dozen water buffaloes, water tankers. Most of those are set up at hospitals, so the hospitals don't have to deal so much with the boil- water issue.

Are things getting back to normal here, Anderson? Yes, pretty much. You can tell that by the fact that the Cleveland Browns and the Green Bay Packers are going to play an exhibition football game here tonight, and it is going to be played, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. It's a little bit of good news, I guess. John Zarrella, thank you very much.

COOPER: Want to go now to Lisa Leiter in Saline, Michigan -- Lisa.


Well, as you can see here, as it is in Cleveland, business getting back to normal along the main drag in Saline, Michigan. A couple of the cafes to my left here just opened for their dinner business. And the lights have been coming back on slowly.

But, you know, it's funny, today, even with this entire town without power for 24 hours, people really maintained their sunny Midwestern disposition. People helping each other out, remaining patient at long gas lines, and really not becoming at all at the fact that on a hot summer day, they were sweltering.

We visited two towns in nearby Detroit today, one that had power, and one that did not. And it was two very different stories.


LEITER (voice-over): Chelsea, Michigan, is usually known for its historic clock tower and the Jiffy Mix plant. But on Friday, it was known as one of the only places where Detroit could find gas.

Cars lined up bumper-to-bumper at gas stations on Main Street in this town unaffected by the blackout.

JOHN MCKENZIE, GAS STATION MANAGER: People have been calling from all over southeast Michigan asking us still if we're open and have fuel. So they're coming.

LEITER: Those who came waited up to 40 minutes for gas, whether to fill their cars or their cans.

TODD LANDS, SALINE RESIDENT: The weekend's coming, so didn't know when power would be back on, so we might as well get gas now.

LEITER: Todd Lands lives in Saline, 25 miles down the road, where the lights went out at 4:00 Thursday afternoon. Businesses in Saline were forced to stay closed, except for a few grocery stores with their own generators. At this dimly lit store, a week's of bottled water sold in a day.

RICK LACK, MANAGER, BUSCH'S: I've never seen anything like this. I mean, big snowstorms come through here once in a while. But when you're without power for this long a time period, yes. And as hot as it's been too. So it's been nothing like I've seen.

LEITER: While the fear factor drove many to the stores, others were just restocking their pantries.

RUTH ANN ROHN, SALINE RESIDENT: I had to throw out a few things, yes, eggs, and a couple things I wasn't sure of, but better to be safe than sick.

LEITER: Ruth Ann Rohn arrived home from the store, and discovered she had more than just dinner.

ROHN: Power is back on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you thinking?

ROHN: Wow, wonderful.


LEITER: Well, Ruth Ann Rohn is just one of the 8,000 people who live in Saline who are probably now trying to cool down their homes.

When we drove into town today about 4:00, it was desolate. There was nobody on the street. Most of the stores were black, and most of them were closed. And as we started driving through town, and this isn't that big of a town, the lights did start to come back on, the traffic lights, a gas station actually opened as well. And we're hearing from surrounding communities that were without power that power is slowly being restored. And the local "Detroit News" now is no longer running lists of areas that are having their power restored, because the lists are getting too long, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Lisa Leiter, thank you very much.

It is definitely not just New York City that has been affected. Ali Velshi is in Niagara Falls, New York. Let's check in with him right now... Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, Lisa's in a small town, we're in a small town too, Niagara Falls, you know, one hour from the -- one mile from the famous falls, one mile from the Canadian border. This is not the scene you're used to seeing when you see Niagara Falls. You're used to the majestic flow of water over the falls.

And if you're one of those people who like to venture a little further than the average tourist, you might notice that this has one of the finest power-generating plants in the country. It is water- fed, it is a hydroelectric plant, and it feeds this entire area.

So you can imagine that Niagara residents were surprised to learn that there was a blackout here. They are a net exporter of power. They are not used to being without power. It was an eerie feeling to be in the dark last night. It was a particularly eerie feeling to learn today a term that none of them knew and most Americans didn't know, the Erie loop.

It begins and ends in Buffalo. It goes in a clockwise motion around Lake Erie, and it is the way that energy is shared and transferred. It is a complex web. It's made up of power-generating plants, like the one that uses the Niagara River. It's made up of high-voltage power lines like above us. I'm standing under one that's 240,000 volts. I don't even want to know what that's doing to me right now.

And it's made up of these. This is a transmission and transformation substation, and it's part of the bulk power transformation system. What happens here is that energy comes in from the plant -- this is what Kelly was talking about earlier. There are many of these around Lake Erie. Energy comes into these thing, it is fed out. If somebody in Ontario -- in Ohio wants to buy energy from Ontario, it could go through this system.

This is the loop that everybody's talking about. This is where the culprit may be. They're happy to have energy and lights back in Niagara Falls, but they're happy to have the spotlight somewhere down the road in Ohio, Anderson.

COOPER: Ali, thank you very much for that report.


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