The Northeast Blackout on 14th August, 2003
Ten years ago, today the Northeastern Seaboard Blackout happened at exactly 4:10:50 p.m. on the 14th of August. I was on the cellphone talking to my sister, when all of a sudden I was disconnected, blankety blank, no sound at all!
Wonder why? So I reached for the landline phone, it had backup battery so it was still working. I phoned my sister and told her we have a temporary blackout, thought it was but it lasted for two to three days depending on where you lived. She responded that they, too have a blackout in their area across town 45 km away.
I have a battery operated radio so I turned it on, “Breaking News!” BLACKOUT ON THE NORTHEASTERN SEABOARD at 4:10 PM from New York State to Ontario and Quebec, actually from Ohio to Eastern Canada!!! STAY TUNED, that’s what the radio was blaring about. We haven’t started cooking dinner yet, too early, so we found out later that we can’t cook anymore, no electricity was available.
Everything was at a standstill. The Subway System downtown was shut down so the passengers were evacuated to the street levels. The streetcars that run on electricity were stalled. Hundreds of TTC Buses were dispatched out and picking up stranded passengers all over the city. Some people were stranded on elevators so backup power supply went on auto. Most people were rescued from stalled elevators and the whole city had no power at all. People who had no other means of transportation just walked all the way home, while others stayed with their friends and families who lived downtown or close by areas. The roads became a no signal zone so the police forces came in to direct traffic and other people took it upon themselves to get out of their cars and direct traffic (those that were brave enough to do so and they seem to be enjoying it). Most public and government buildings were on backup power since they were required to install diesel powered backup generators for nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities.
Thinking that power will be back up and running soon, we waited and waited all afternoon and into the night time. It was getting so dark so we figured that power won’t be back soon enough. We got the flashlights ready and some candles when the batteries run out. Since there was no dinner for the night, we munch on chips and ate cookies instead.
All Gasoline Stations were now closing since the pumps were inoperable. The store at the gas station were still open, and instead of throwing out their frozen goods, every customer buying there were given ice cream and other frozen stuff for free (they were melting and ready to throw out anyway so they gave them away). We got a couple of large ice cream tubs and took it home after we bought potato chips, some soda crackers and cookies, too. That consisted our junk food dinner, it’s funny but very satisfying one.
The neighbors were barbequing all their burgers, steaks and defrosted meats so the neighborhood had a huge dinner party since everyone was invited. Some of us brought out the beers and the wine bottles. Picnic tables and chairs were set up in the playground and everyone was there. Some people on the radio were saying that if only they had beer on hand, they would be happy, so we phoned them and told them to come pick up some six packs and they dropped by from a few blocks away. Since they were already there, they joined the BBQ party for free. Who would have thought that this huge blackout would turn out to be a humongous backyard BBQ party? Some people were so drunk and instead of going home, they slept it off at the backyard chairs and some of us brought out our tents and set them up. We decided to sleep outside in our tents because it was too hot and humid inside the house at the end of summer season.
After two days, the power was back in our territory and other areas had to wait one more blackout day to get their power back. It was a horrible power outage experience but we lived to tell about it. At first everyone thought it was another terrorist tactic of attack but it wasn’t really. Just an unfortunate train of events that caused the electricity power grid to collapse and deteriorate to a major blackout in history. And one that we will never learn to forget through the years. Those who were prepared didn’t suffer much but for those caught unaware, they had to bear the consequences and everyone made the best out of that unfortunate incident. We were not happy that it had to happen but we learned our lessons to be prepared for times like these and the electric companies whose computers and switching mechanisms failed, they have so much to fix and restore power to millions of households that were affected by the blackout.
And when it finally was restored, they had to find out what caused the failure and made sure that it never happens again. A blackout this magnitude was probably avoidable if they had the knowledge and equipment to prevent it which they were so unprepared and we were just lucky that nobody lost their lives or livelihood for that matter. We learned how to live and let our resources take over, then make the best of what we got. In the end we were able to survive and lived to tell everyone about it. It made headlines around the world and so much had to be analyzed and lessons to be learned from occasions like this huge blackout. Will another blackout this magnitude ever occur again? We hoped not, after all the misery and discomfort that we experienced, this better be the last blackout on this side of the world.
Toronto Skyline 2003 taken during the Blackout
Some reminders of that fateful day in 2003 from the broadcast news and other sources are shared below:
August 14, 2003 Blackout – Courtesy of CTV News:
Wikipedia have a version of the incident if you want to read it.