On August 14, 2003, one of the largest blackouts in New York City history occurred. The blackout originated with a bush fire on a transmission line that caused it to go out of service in Cleveland, Ohio. This was followed by another transmission line that went out of service about an hour later. These two instances caused an overload on transmission lines that began to fail in the eastern part of the United States. Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and parts of Ontario, Canada were affected. Around 4:10 PM, New York City felt the effects as its residents were left powerless, which would continue on for 30 hours. New York State Governor George E. Pataki declared a state of emergency.

Over 400,000 strap-hangers were left stranded in the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s Subway, Metro-North, and Long Island Rail Road, with many of them evacuated and forced to walk home over bridges alongside gridlocked traffic, due to lack of transportation alternatives. New Yorkers also had to be rescued from elevators with the help of first responders. New York Police Department officers and considerate New Yorkers helped to direct traffic as the traffic lights went out of service. Many concerned New Yorkers were in disarray with the September 11, 2001 attacks fresh on their minds. Former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg spoke to his constituents over several press conferences to assure the loss of power was not the result of “terrorist attacks:”

I can tell you 100 percent sure that there is no evidence at this moment whatsoever that there is any terrorism. But keep in mind, this did start up in Canada. And so we’ll really have to depend on the information that we get from Niagara Mohawk Power or one of our other power companies up there. But in terms of New York City, there is no terrorism whatsoever.

As temperatures were above 90 degrees, Mayor Bloomberg also informed his constituents to open their windows and drink plenty of water. New Yorkers were left at ease with Mayor Bloomberg’s announcement, which then led many to seek out flashlights, batteries, food, and other necessities from nearby convenience and grocery stores. Many stores rushed to give away perishable items to assist those in need. Restaurants and bars saw a surge in business as they served and hosted New Yorkers as many were not able to endure the heat in their homes. New Yorkers had to rely on payphones as telephone and cellular phone service was disrupted. Unfortunately many had to endure the blackout by sleeping in the city’s parks and public buildings, while more fortunate New Yorkers were able to make it home or spend the night at someone else’s home.

Hospitals were forced to work over backup generators to keep operations afloat and support the essential equipment. New York City’s hospitals saw an uptick in admissions to its emergency rooms due to heat and other health problems. Unfortunately 11 New Yorkers died as a result of the blackout.

The MTA saw limited service restored that night around 8:00 PM. Most New York City neighborhoods were with power by the afternoon of Friday, August 15, 2003. Power was not fully restored to the city until around 9:30 PM.

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