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August 19, 2003
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?
The lights went out while we were trying to close out our store in Suffolk County. We thought it was a blown fuse in the store, until I noticed that the lights in the hall were out too. I ventured out with a flashlight to get a colleague who was on the other side of the building, and by the time I returned, I found out the lights were out in Port Jefferson as well, about 10 miles away.
We tried to call our security office to tell them that we couldn't set the store alarm, but all out cell phones were dead and we couldn't reach anywhere in Manhattan.
Everyone was walking around the campus in a daze, wondering what happened. When we got to our cars in the parking lot, about 15 minutes after the lights went out, the radio was blaring these stern-sounding voices telling us about how the lights were out in New York City and Detroit and Cleveland as well.
My heart skipped a few beats...I thought it was the opening stages of the next 9/11. My co-workers all advised me to be careful since I had to make a 75 mile trek back to New York City where I live.
It took me quite awhile just to make it back to the county road since all the lights were out. There were some county cops directing traffic at one or two intersections, but for the most part, it was a very slow ride during which one hoped that everyone would follow some semblance of order on the roads.
It took me more than 3 hours to get home. The roadways both into and out of Long Island were packed with cars, and there were an awful lot of emergency vehicles headed to the west as well. It took me about an hour to finally make contact on my cell phone. As I made my first call, I could hear the air raid sirens going off in the background somewhere near the LIE, and whatever station I had on the radio was playing the Emergency Alert System tone before the station died.
Quite unnerving, though I think I, and everyone else, kept their cool. I think we all had 9/11 rattling around somewhere in our brains, but when you're stuck in traffic going 5 miles an hour, it tends to calm you down a bit. You just sit, and wait, and since you can't do anything about it anyway, you just listen to the radio for snippets of news.
I finally got home shortly before nightfall. Most of the neighbors in Brooklyn were just sitting on the sidewalks and stoops, preparing for the darkness that would eventually descend. We listened in my home to a small portable radio, lit the candles, and tried to stay optimistic about when the power would come back. After all, Mayor Bloomberg said it'd be a few hours.
I went out after dusk and took my camera, snapping a few pics here and there of my neighborhood at twilight. I had to capture the moment since I don't think I'd ever see it that way again...at least I hope not.
When the darkness was complete, I decided for my own safety to lock it up for the night.
My mom listened to the news radio stations, while I pulled out my old scanner and listened to the NYPD and FDNY. Contrary to news reports, there was more than a fair share of mayhem the first night - looting, shootings, fires, attacks on police...
I couldn't sleep at all...my asthma was acting up and it was way too hot. I may have slept an hour or two that night.
The next morning, work called to say the building still had no power and to stay at home. I walked the neighborhood, watching everyone just standing around not knowing what to do. It was morning, and there was no tv to watch, no work to do, no ATMs to take money out of, no coffee to brew.
It was absolutely surreal.
The whole day was just a waiting game. A waiting day in the heat and humidity of a very long August day.
Eventually, we got bored and decided to drive around. About 3 o'clock in the afternoon, it seemed Coney Island and Ocean Parkway had lights, but no one else. We ventured on into Bensonhurst, the nearest neighborhood with power, and went to a supermarket to buy anything we could since we hadn't bought much food the week before...
After almost 26 1/2 hours, the lights came back at exactly 6:30 PM.
We decided to watch the national news, since we hadn't seen any video of what had transpired the day before. We were amazed.
And we were amazed again when a half hour later, at 7PM, we were hit with a rolling blackout.
The lights stayed off for 25 minutes.
At 7:25 PM on Friday, the lights came back on, and they've been on ever since.
Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
I know that our power grid seems to be outdated and is in serious need of an upgrade.
However, in this day and age we live in...I can't help but think that sabotage was involved in some way.
I still find it ludicrous that a half hour after the lights went out, all the officials were saying it wasn't terrorism. Here we are, days later, and they still don't know what caused the blackout.
Which leads me to ask...if they don't know what caused the blackout, how in the world do they know what didn't cause it???
What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
It's usually caused by one of two things...weather or human negligence. Every once in a while, a drunk driver might crash into a power pole or a transformer might explode, but by and lareg, I think it's negligence & nature.
Did either blackout seem significant or shocking at the time?
Both were significant
Why did you consider the blackout(s) to be significant or insignificant?
50 million people being blacked out speaks for itself.
How did the blackout(s) affect you?
I wound up getting food poisoning after eating some spoiled food on Saturday.
What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
I thought it was an interesting little occurrence that just happened in my small slice of Suffolk County...I was shocked when I heard that it affected an entire portion of this country.
How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
Most of the blackouts I've been in have lasted one or two hours.
It was just crazy trying to find ways to keep myself occupied, and the lack of visual information on the story was frustrating.
Even more frustrating was the paralysis that was caused by having no street lights, no subways, no e-mail, a cell phone that was dying, and so on.
What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
I realize the blackout wasn't their fault, so I don't blame them for what happened.
If you experienced both the 1965 and 1977 blackouts, please compare them (describe the ways in which they were similar/different):
Did the blackout(s) have any larger meaning in your mind?
Did the blackout(s) cause any profound crisis?
How did the blackout(s) affect your daily reliance on electricity?
No effect / same reliance
This is how the story goes: In November of 1965 the lights went out in New York and crime rates temporarily dropped; there were widespread reports of extraordinary cooperation and trust between strangers caught together in the power failure. In July of 1977, little more than a decade later, the lights went out again in New York. This time, a devastating wave of looting and arson broke out. Does this story ring true to you? Explain why or why not:
Well, all I know is that in 2003, there wasn't nearly as much looting and destruction as in 77. then again, there were an awful lot of stores looted in the 5 boroughs...dozens of shops (not the two or three Bloomberg will have you believe.)
Story #292, The Blackout History Project, 19 August 2003, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/292/>.
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