8/16/03 6:19 PM Inches: 21.3 REGULAR BC-Blackout 10thLd-Writethru 08-16 0897
By LARRY McSHANE
Associated Press Writer
At street fairs, in baseball parks, even on the subway, people reveled in the familiar Saturday as the Midwest and Northeast almost fully recovered from the worst power outage in U.S. history.
While cities from New York to Detroit slipped back into the pace of a summer weekend, investigators turned their attention to three transmission lines in Ohio that may have sparked Thursday’s blackout.
“We are fairly certain” that the problem started in Ohio, said Michehl Gent, head of the North American Electric Reliability Council. “We are now trying to determine why the situation was not brought under control.”
FirstEnergy Corp., the Akron, Ohio-based utility that officials said owned at least two of the three lines, said alarm systems that might have alerted engineers to the failed lines were broken, but that functioning backup systems had been in place.
Day One A.B. — after blackout — arrived in the nation’s largest city with the subway system back on track, once again zipping New Yorkers from the Battery up to the Bronx.
Power was officially restored to the entire city at 9:03 p.m. Friday, nearly 29 hours after it went out almost simultaneously in eight states and Canada. The subways started rolling just after midnight Saturday.
“Things are just getting back,” said Miriam Prince, 22, after riding the train from Brooklyn to Rockefeller Center. “Nothing spectacular. Just where they should be.”
In Michigan, Bettie Lloyd was particularly glad for a return to normal. The auditor for the Detroit Board of Education was stuck alone in an elevator for nearly 19 hours; firefighters finally freed her Friday after someone heard her pleas for help.
“I prayed a lot,” said Lloyd, 52. “I said, ‘Oh my God, you’re here! Thank you!”‘
Cleveland’s power was fully restored Friday, in time for both baseball’s Cleveland Indians and the NFL’s Browns to play at home. The lingering problem was that city residents had to boil water before drinking or cooking with it.
People in Detroit, where water pressure was low, were under a similar order, though power was restored to nearly all of Michigan’s 2.3 million customers Saturday. Energy officials called the situation tenuous and said it was critical for people to conserve electricity to avoid rolling blackouts.
“If customers will cooperate one more day, I think we’ll be able to avoid rolling blackouts,” DTE Energy chairman and chief executive Anthony Earley said Saturday afternoon.
The blackout occurred at 4:11 p.m. EDT Thursday, creating instant chaos in the eastern United States and the Canadian province of Ontario.
Officials there struggled Saturday to restore stable power throughout the province, but warned it could take days before everything is back to normal.
“It is not going to be an abundance of power on Monday morning,” Ontario Premier Ernie Eves said. In Toronto, it was unclear if subway service would be restored in time for the new work week on Monday.
DTE expected its plants to be at full capacity by Monday, even though Michigan’s power system was especially damaged by the blackout. Because of its Great Lakes geography, the state has relatively few connections on the Lake Erie transmission loop with other states and Canada, so just before the blackout it received a huge surge of electricity that had nowhere to go.
“Power goes into Michigan or comes out, but it does not go through, for all practical purposes,” said Gary Kitts, Michigan Public Service Commission chief administrative officer.
In Manhattan’s Midtown, hundreds wandered about on a sticky summer day at a street fair — a typical, and welcome, scene after two days without power.
Turgay Agrali, a tourist from Turkey, stood in the crowd with a smile, comforted by the promise of air conditioning when he returned to his hotel.
“The first day I came was nice,” he said. “The second day — blackout.”
There were still overflowing garbage cans scattered around Manhattan, but sanitation crews were working overtime through the weekend. Tons of trash had been piled on sidewalks as New Yorkers emptied their refrigerators of spoiled food.
The only places in New York still suffering from a major blackout hangover were the three airports: Kennedy International, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty. With several hundred flights canceled on Friday, “the airlines are still trying to get their schedules back in order,” said Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman.
The City Council finance office estimated the blackout cost the city up to $750 million in lost revenue, up to $40 million in lost tax revenue and up to $10 million in overtime pay for the first 24 hours after electricity went out.
Gent said investigators were examining more than 10,000 pages of data, including automatically generated logs on power flows over transmission lines, to determine what caused the blackout.
“We will get to the bottom of this,” he said.