The power went off around 4:10 in the afternoon, that August 14th, fifteen years ago. Coming up on the second anniversary of the 9/11 attack and the destruction of The World Trade Center, it naturally felt like this was no mere accident. As the hours passed, and the power didn’t come back on, rather the city plunged into darkness, save for the odd generator or flashlight, people began to wonder if this wasn’t another terrorist attack, and a wave of apprehensive speculation over what was going to come next descended over the city.
New York City was wrapped in a blanket of dark, but then so was most of the East Coast, and extending as far west as Detroit. The biggest power outage since the Great Blackout of 1977 and bigger than the legendary New York City Blackout of 1965. The power went out in New York City, Newark New Jersey, Detroit, Cleveland, Ottawa, Toronto, Rochester, Buffalo, Baltimore, Toledo and Windsor Ontario. All told, the blackout effected some 55 million people. The power came back up in a few places at 11:00 pm that night. But for most, it was days, if not weeks before power was restored.
In a scramble to ascertain the cause, officials cited a computer failure at a power station near Ontario, Canada which began a chain reaction to some 508 generating units and over 265 power plants; shutting them all down. Some blamed the outage for an electrical storm and a lightning strike, but Officials said there were no lightening storms anywhere at or near the Eastern Seaboard. Some blamed the intense Summer heat and the overuse of air conditioners as the cause. Whatever it was, the power cut also cut power to millions of air-conditioners and the discomfort factor skyrocketed in a short period of time.
Fortunately, most TV and Radio outlets were up and running with no problems, as they were working off emergency generators. So this series of reports, from CBS Radio, helped inform everyone over the rest of the country and now serve as a reminder that Summers are often unpredictable – and living in almost total darkness for an unspecified period of time was a bit nerve-racking.
Here is that series of broadcast updates via CBS Radio from August 14, 2003.