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September 15, 2002
Which blackout(s) did you experience?
Other (please specify)
In your own words, tell the story of your experience in the blackout(s). Try to recall specific events and the people, places, and things involved; also include more general reactions, images adn last impressions?
It was early April of 1997 and I was a freshman and Univ. of North Dakota. We had an unusually large amount of snowfall that year and we were in our annual melt. Around April 10, we had a blizzard that was without doubt the worse I had experienced.
I was in the West Hall dormitory whenthe lights went out and I waited for the 5 minutes or so for them to come back on. They didn't. The building was new enough to have emergency lights, but they went out after a couple hours. At night time, the stairway was so dark that one had to sort of shuffle all the way down.
That night, the steam circulation in the campus radiators failed and the building became cold. We only went down to 60 degrees, but I had a friend in an older dorm who measured 45 degrees in her room.
It was the next day that I found out that the dining center cooked with electricity. All there was to eat was a bagel and water. Food was rationed out and I think that we were allowed two bagels for the lunch. All the food in refrigeration was destroyed and food service from outside of town couldn't arrive because the roads were immpassable.
I think it was about 36 hours later, power was restored to that part of town. It became an instant mess since as water pressure built back up, radiator pipes exploded everywhere simultaneously. The entire basement of the dorm I was in was flooded with about one inch deep water.
The snow started to melt and around the 15th or so, we saw that we had a major flood on our hands. I recall the snowfall that winter was 110 inches, a record that caused the "500 year flood" as the Grand Forks Herald called it. The Red River Dike broke early in the morning and a military evacuation was put in place. I left with a friend to Devils Lake, 100 miles west of Grand Forks.
I saw en route the scale of teh destruction. The power lines between Devil's Lake and Grand Forks were about 90% destroyed. Power poles that were frozen into the ground were reduced to 3-foot-high piles of splinters. I recall a stretch of about 5 miles where EVERY pole along US-2 was broken. Some rural parts of North Dakota didn't regain power for a couple weeks, but a majority had power two days later.
Once in Devil's Lake, I learned that a fire had started in downtown Grand Forks and spread via overhead walkways across town. The entire business district was destroyed either by fire or the current of the water that came through. The university where I had worked was wiped out and closed until September, the dormitories were almost totalled from water damage.
Documented in my web page,
Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
Strong winds, heavy snowfall. Destroyed power lines
Only 1 substation of what was then 13 in the entire city was functioning
What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
What can one do to avoid one like this? Buried power lines? That was one of the hazards of living that far north. Also why I live in Iowa now.
Did either blackout seem significant or shocking at the time?
Neither was significant
Why did you consider the blackout(s) to be significant or insignificant?
When it is -15 outside and electricity runs the entire city, a blackout gives most people a cause for serious concern.
How did the blackout(s) affect you?
cold and hungry for a day. I never kept food in my room. Stores were closed. Dining services was shut down. Vending machines didn't work of course.
A whole group of students crouded into this one old house that still had electricity -- the only one on the street that did. The owner had a huge pot of soup on the (gas) stove.
What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
They sure are a bit more significant to me now. I used to think of them romantically such as, "that would be exciting" or "seems cool", until you actually experience one and you don't know when it will end.
How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
Small power failures are an annoyance as I have to reset all the clocks and remember to keep the refrigerator closed. Cooking is inconvenienced if you use electric. I use gas today.
What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
Had no difference. I didn't live there at the time
Did the blackout(s) have any larger meaning in your mind?
Did the blackout(s) cause any profound crisis?
Yes (please explain)
If yes, please explain:
Food destroyed in dining centers. I was concerned about friends of mine who are diabetic and need to fine tune their diet.
How did the blackout(s) affect your daily reliance on electricity?
Became less reliant
If other, please specify:
Today, I can take or leave electricity. If I went without it now, it wouldn't bother me a bit.
When I moved to my new house, I was so busy with work at Iowa State, I never got around to turning the electricity to the house for three weeks. It was a very sedate lifestyle where sleep begins at dusk and mornings start a whole lot earlier.
Story #185, The Blackout History Project, 15 September 2002, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/185/>.
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