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Aug. 18, 2003: U.S. Suffers Largest Blackout In History

August 18, 2003
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DETROIT — The largest power blackout in United States history closed down a major portion of the northeastern United States as well as part of Canada late Thursday afternoon, Aug. 14, 2003, at approximately 4:10 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). Power was gradually restored over the weekend. Officials stated that it could take at least until this morning, Monday, Aug. 18, before power could be brought back to full capacity in all the affected areas.

The blackout impacted eight states stretching from Connecticut to southeastern Michigan (including the headquarters of The News). The states that were affected included parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. A portion of the province of Ontario in Canada also lost power. Major cities that lost power included Cleveland, Detroit, New York, and Toronto.

At least three states declared a state of emergency, including Michigan, New Jersey, and New York.

The North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC), a voluntary organization that oversees the electrical grid, reported that over a hundred electric power plants were shut down by the blackout, which affected approximately 50 million people encompassing a 9,300-square-mile area.

The precise cause of the blackout is still unknown. The initial theory offered by Canadian authorities had the cause centered in the Niagara Falls area in New York. Another theory said it started in Lansing, Mich., and moved eastward. Still another said it was centered in Ohio. An investigation is underway and officials said it could be days or even weeks before the trigger point is determined.

A statement released by Michehl R. Gent, president and CEO of NERC, said, "We now are fairly certain this disturbance started in Ohio. We are now trying to determine why this situation was not brought under control after the first three transmission lines relayed out of service. We will get to the bottom of this."

The three transmission lines referred to by Gent have been attributed to FirstEnergy Corp. of Akron, Ohio.

Gent added, "We are now turning our attention to collecting the necessary data on the events from all of the system operators that were involved in the blackout. There were probably over 10,000 discrete system events that we will need to examine."

Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, stated that he will hold a congressional hearing to look into the blackout.

Publication date: 08/18/2003

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