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Where were you, & what did you do, during the '03 Blackout?

 
 
jespah
 
Reply Mon 18 Aug, 2003 08:28 am
Okay, this may have been asked before, but were you affected? How? How long were you affected? Which of the 8 affected states (Michigan, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont) or the 1 affected province (Ontario) were you in?
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cavfancier
 
  2  
Reply Mon 18 Aug, 2003 08:39 am
I'll copy and paste my answer from Walter's thread:

"Hi all. Guess who was catering an important corporate team building event when the power went out? We found candles, and there were gas stovetops, so we reinvented the menu to make up for not having any appliances. We had some wine, and a bang up meal. Also got them out before it got too dark. The blackout actually made the event one of the best I have done...there were great compliements all around, and the President said to me at the end of the night: "Paul, this experience has taught us a lot about our business. Thank you for being able to think laterally." In my own way, I like to think I was one of heroes of that night Needless to say, I am back online as of today."

Toronto, of course. Our area got power back pretty quickly, but we have friends who were trapped in the blocks that went two days without power. Total nightmare....
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cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Mon 18 Aug, 2003 08:45 am
I corrected a couple of spelling errors....I was a bit frazzled when I first posted Smile
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jespah
 
  2  
Reply Mon 18 Aug, 2003 09:06 am
It was my in-laws' 48th wedding anniversary, and Mr. Jespah and I were to go and celebrate it with them. They live in Manhattan but were vacationing in the Hamptons (way out on Long Island). My father-in-law was back in Manhattan to feed the cat. He was planning on taking the same Long Island Rail Road train with us, from NYC to Hampton Bays.

My husband and I took Amtrak to Penn Station in New York without incident. We took a cab to his parents' apartment and stayed there for a few hours. We had lunch, petted the cat and wondered if my father-in-law would join us there. He didn't (it ended up he'd gone to the gym). At about 3:30 PM or so we returned to Penn Station, with our bags.

We were all supposed to get onto the 4:21 PM train. My husband and I were unable to find his father, but that's nothing odd as Penn Station is very large. We figured we'd either see him on the train or at the station once we arrived at Hampton Bays. It was warm in the station but not awful. My husband bought the tickets and we waited around. The train was announced and we went down to the platform. The platform was very hot but if you stood in the escalator stairwell it was comfortable, as there was air conditioning wafting down from one level up.

We were joined by a few other commuters as it was the only cool spot on the platform level. The train didn't arrive and we waited (no big shock there, sometimes the Long Island Rail Road puts you on the platform before the train is physically in the station). Then, at about 4:10 (we learned later it was probably 4:08) PM, the station went pitch black. It was black for about 20 or 30 seconds and then the emergency power came on. The air conditioning was completely off and there were few lights but it was enough lighting to assure that you wouldn't fall onto the tracks.

The PA announcer actually announced the departure of 2 other trains before saying, "We are obviously experiencing power problems. Please stand by." That was repeated a few times before she added, "Get off the platforms. Everyone must get off the platforms."

We walked up the escalator, which wasn't working. I was behind a woman who had a lot of trouble walking so it was slow going, in the heat, with our bags. We got to the next level up, which is where you wait for LIRR trains to have their platforms announced. My husband went to see if he could exchange the tickets and I saw a policewoman. I asked her what was going on and she said she'd heard it was all five boroughs and all of Long Island. Her advice was - it's only going to get hotter and more crowded in here. Go while the going is good.

My husband returned and had been unable to exchange the tickets - no computers, no refunds. We decided to get a cab and return to his parents' apartment, as it was looking very hot and, even if Manhattan power was restored, we'd have to go through Queens and Nassau and Suffolk Counties to get to our destination. Any of those could be out so it was obvious the trip to the Hamptons was going to be scrapped.

8th Avenue was brutally hot as we joined hundreds of other people. We passed the large post office (this is where a number of people ended up spending that night, we learned later). We walked down to 29th street and waited about an hour for a cab. There were none or they were full. We saw a small park and were seriously considering whether sleeping under a tree would be an acceptable option.

After a while, we realized this wasn't working so we went further downtown, to 25th street. Nearly immediately, we got a cab. The driver had about 3/4 of a tank of gas so we figured we'd be okay. We were going to the Upper West Side, in the hundreds (near Columbia University). This is normally a 20 - 30 minute drive. The cab driver was kind enough to buy water bottles for us as it was obviously going to be slow, hot going. We went to the West Side Highway and there was a mass of people. The radio didn't give a lot of information except that the Lincoln Tunnel was closed (note: the Lincoln Tunnel goes from the West side of Manhattan, at about 40th Street, over the river to New Jersey).

As we crawled along, thousands of people streamed by. They were hot and sweaty and no one looked happy but at the same time no one was belligerent. People had signs out for hitchhiking - one poor woman had a sign for Hartsdale, which is all the way North in Westchester County. Finally, at about 50th street, after taking an hour and a half to go 25 blocks, the traffic opened up and we were able to make some time. The entire trip took nearly 2 hours.

We walked up 7 flights to my in-laws. My husband, the greatest guy ever, carried the bags.

Finally, we got to my in-laws' apartment at about 7:30 PM. The first thing we did was call my parents, as they were also affected (they live in Suffolk County, Long Island) and because perhaps my father- or mother-in-law had contacted them. No one had called my folks but they did have the number for the hotel where my mother-in-law was. We then called the hotel. Since my mother-in-law is deaf, we knew she probably hadn't been able to be in touch with anyone (it was possible that New York Relay was down, along with everything else). We left word with the office and asked them to walk the message over to her.

About fifteen minutes later, my father-in-law stumbled in. He had wedged himself into the back of a bus and gotten home that way. He was very hot and tired-looking (he's 70) but at least we were together.

It was getting dark so we hauled out the candles and flashlights. There is a gas stove so I made linguine and tomato sauce by flashlight. We grabbed perishables from the fridge (there wasn't a lot in there as my in-laws had cleaned it out in anticipation of their vacation). I think we had carrot sticks, olives with pimentos and some smoked cheese in addition to water and the linguine. It was odd but it was food.

With nothing else to do, we went to sleep or at least tried to. It was blazing hot and the air wasn't moving at all. Manhattan looked strange. We could see New Jersey from the window and there were some lights on there.

In the morning, at about 7 AM or so, we woke up. My husband, totally on a lark said, "Let's see if I can turn on this light." And it worked! My father-in-law came in and reported we'd just gotten our power back about 10 minutes before that.

My parents had it rougher. Their phone service went out and so did the cellular network. It took longer for LI power to be restored - they didn't get their power back until about 6 PM that night.

Since Amtrak wasn't running, we stayed in NYC another night. My father-in-law stayed with us because there was also no LIRR service. Finally, Saturday, we returned to Boston via Amtrak, to a home with air conditioning and non-spoiled food.
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cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Mon 18 Aug, 2003 09:25 am
Shocked Quite a story. Heh heh, when I came home after the catering (thankfully we had a ride), I had to leave all my leftovers and equipment with our doorman, as I just didn't have the muster to carry 50 lbs. up 10 flights of stairs. Part of the bounty was some cooked tenderloin which sat down there for almost 24 hours. We ate it anyway, with no ill effects Smile Our biggest concern was for our mother-in-law, who has some ailments. We couldn't get in touch with her for over a day, and we were getting concerned that something had happened. Paranoia, perhaps, but hey, you concern yourselves with the people you love. She was fine, in the end. Our building has now used the blackout as an excuse to cut off our laundry and air-conditioning 'until further notice' from the city. This, to many of us living here amounts to the worst kind of 'saving a buck' hooey ever.
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jespah
 
  1  
Reply Mon 18 Aug, 2003 09:29 am
Gawd, no A/C????!!! That stinks!

I kept saying to Mr. J - we're lucky, we're so lucky. We had water, we had beds to sleep in, we didn't have to hike 90 blocks in the blazing heat, our folks were fine, we weren't caught anywhere. If the train had been leaving 10 minutes earlier, we'd've been stuck in the tunnel under the East River.

Glad to see you made it through okay - and with praise to boot! :-D
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Grand Duke
 
  1  
Reply Mon 18 Aug, 2003 09:40 am
Did any of you contribute to the birth-spike that's now expected next May? If not, why not?
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jespah
 
  1  
Reply Mon 18 Aug, 2003 01:26 pm
Graham wrote:
Did any of you contribute to the birth-spike that's now expected next May? If not, why not?


(A) We don't want kids, blackout or no blackout and
(B) eek, it was sooooo hot and humid and yucky out I imagine Mr. J and I would've, erm, been stuck together, which would've been tough to explain to either my father-in-law or an EMT.
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cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Mon 18 Aug, 2003 01:29 pm
I go with B, sadly. Sad
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Roberta
 
  2  
Reply Mon 18 Aug, 2003 04:06 pm
I was home, fortunately. I could never have made it up the eight flights to my apartment. (I have asthma.) I immediately looked outside. No traffic lights. I got candles, a flashlight, and batteries from various spots. Then I filled the bathtub with water and some pots and bottles with water. (I remembered that my building didn't have water during the blackout of '77.) Started listening to my transistor radio. Fifty million people!!! I mentioned to my cat Mikey that this was going to take a while.

The heat was oppressive. No cross-ventilation. I tried to sleep, but it was too hot. And the phone kept ringing. People wanted to know if I was ok. Yeah, I'm ok, but I'm trying to sleep here. What else is there to do? Finally fell asleep in a pool of sweat.

Jes, you were lucky. I had to wait 26 hours for the lights to come back on. And I'm not that far from where your in-laws live.

I lost my appetite for several days, which I attribute to the heat. Threw out hundreds of dollars worth of food. And finally got my cable up and running again. The power surge when the lights went back on killed my converter.

So I'm ok. Finally cool. And my appetite is starting to return, which is a problem because there's no food in the house. LOL. I'll venture out to the supermarket tomorrow. I was there briefly on Friday night. A sorry sight. No meat. No dairy. No appetizing.

It ain't easy being a Noo Yawker.
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cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Mon 18 Aug, 2003 04:12 pm
A/C was turned on this morning, maybe partly due to the "Boycott September Rent" graffiti on the shutoff announcements in the elevator Laughing
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jespah
 
  1  
Reply Mon 18 Aug, 2003 04:19 pm
Poor Boida! I wish I'd known - we coulda all commiserated together.
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Roberta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 18 Aug, 2003 10:45 pm
Cav, You're a miracle worker. Glad to hear about the AC.

Jes, Thanks. Let me know the next time you're in town. We can belatedly commiserate.
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bree
 
  2  
Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2003 12:05 pm
Sorry to be arriving a little late at this party -- I'm still having trouble finding things on the new site. (That isn't a complaint, just a reflection of the fact that I'm old and set in my ways and have trouble adapting to change.) If my report below sounds familiar, that's because most of it is copied from what I wrote on Walter's thread on Friday.

I work at the very southern end of Greenwich Village, and I live on the Upper West Side, so it took me over 2 hours to walk home from my office. [Note to jespah: I walked up Tenth/Amsterdam Avenue most of the way, so your cab may have passed very close to me at some point.] It was no fun to do that in 90-degree weather, but at least I was wearing comfortable shoes, and at least I eventually made it home, unlike the many unfortunate suburbanites who were stranded in the city. If there's a silver lining to be found in the whole experience, I guess it's knowing that, in spite of my sedentary life-style, I can still walk for 2 hours in 90-degree heat without suffering any physical consequences that couldn't be taken care of by a couple of Advil and a glass of wine.

Probably the scariest part of the trip (apart from the few crazed drivers who decided that the absence of streetlights was a license to drive as carelessly as they felt like) was when I finally got to my apartment building, and discovered that the staircase was pitch dark because the backup lights that are supposed to light the staircase in the event of a blackout weren't working. (I later heard from a co-worker who walked across the Brooklyn Bridge that the cables on the bridge were actually shaking from the weight of all the people on the bridge. I think that would probably have been a lot scarier than a few careless drivers and a dark staircase.) Fortunately, a nice neighbor who had a flashlight, and who was on his way to the 4th floor, agreed to walk me up to the 10th floor, where I live.

The co-op board president lives down the hall from me, so when I got to the 10th floor I knocked on his door and asked if volunteers were needed to check on the many elderly people who live in our building. He thanked me but said that the building staff was already taking care of that (which made me feel a lot better about all the money I hand out in tips every Christmas.) So I spent Thursday evening sitting in the dark, listening to NPR on a transistor radio, to the background of live music played on the French horn (I think) by someone I couldn't see, but who sounded like he was just outside my building. (There are a lot of professional musicians who live in this neighborhood, so maybe one of them just decided to pass the time by giving his neighbors a free concert.) The local NPR station (WNYC) had lost their backup power about an hour into the blackout, so they were broadcasting over a telephone from an office lit only by flashlights. The telephone line made the reception kind of scratchy, which made the whole thing feel kind of like listening to one of Edward R. Murrow's broadcasts during the Blitz. (I'm not actually old enough to remember what that was like, so I may be off base about it, but that's what I've always imagined those broadcasts sounded like.)

The power came back on in my building at about 6 o'clock on Friday morning. I was lying in bed, half-awake (normally I'd be sound asleep at that hour, but I had gone to bed unusually early the night before out of sheer boredom) when I heard a male voice say, "The power is back. The power is back." I have no idea whose voice it was, or where it was coming from; I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it was the voice of God. Anyway, I was very hungry, not having had much in the way of dinner the previous night, so I immediately jumped out of bed and toasted an English muffin for breakfast, in case the power went out again and left me toaster-less.

My employer did not exactly cover itself with glory in the way it handled the blackout. Almost as soon as the lights went out, people headed for the stairways to leave the building, only to be told by the facilities staff that we were not allowed to use the stairs, but should take the freight elevator instead. (I must have missed the public safety lecture where they told us, "In the event of a power failure, go directly to the nearest elevator.") Fortunately, even the facilities people soon realized how stupid they were being, and after a couple of minutes we were told it was OK to take the stairs out of the building. And when I returned to work on Monday, I heard to my amazement that several people who live in the suburbs and were unable to get out of the city came back to the building in the hope of spending the night in their offices, only to be told by the building staff that they couldn't stay in the building. No explanation was given, they were just told to get out. It's so nice to know that I work for a caring employer that would rather see its employees spend the night sleeping on the sidewalks of a darkened and potentially dangerous city than let them take shelter in the office.
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Roberta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2003 03:43 pm
Bree, I'm impressed with all that walking--streets, stairs. The reception on WINS and WABC was better than that on NPR, but the broadcasts were snooze-worthy. I'm glad you got the power back so early. I'm obviously living on the wrong side of town. During the last blackout people in the outer boroughs complained that Manhattan in general and the Upper East Side in particular were being singled out for special treament. Not this time.

I'm glad you're ok. BTW, your employer sounds like a real charmer.
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jespah
 
  2  
Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2003 05:00 pm
Heya Bree! Ah, your employer - at least they didn't tell people to stay at their desks. Some employers did that and caused pretty major panics because, of course, that's what a lot of folks were told in the South Tower of the WTC on 9/11. And, of course, 2 years ago many of them died because of that kind of employer stupidity.

It was definitely a day, few days, of kindness, anger, stupidity, intelligence, etc. Lots of raw stuff came out. Our cabbie just out and out bought us water, but down Broadway from my in-laws, a cel phone store had its front window smashed by looters.

I suspect more buses could have been deployed. I know there was a lack of gasoline but people were really in danger of passing out due to the heat, bad air quality and unexpected exertion. same with ferry service - I just think there could have been more available or something of the sort. All of those people trying to get to Jersey were just walking along the West Side Highway, which meant that some of the lanes were closed. Add to that the fact that the Lincoln Tunnel was shut and the snarl was just awful. And, well, traffic wastes gasoline, which was in short supply. It was just this domino effect, but it could have been staved off if there had been more public transportation available to get those people off the highway, thereby opening up the lanes, thereby getting the cabs and buses through more quickly, thereby adding less pollution and wasting less gasoline, thereby allowing for more cab and bus trips, etc.

One thing the crisis did was to point up to companies with contingency plans just how good (or not) those plans really were. I predict that those who profit from such plans (backing up services and the like) will get some real money-making opportunities from this.

At this point I am also wondering about what happened, in terms of public health. E. g. how many heart attacks, how many cases of heat stroke, etc. There were only a few deaths but this news about illnesses has not been forthcoming.
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bree
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2003 08:33 pm
Roberta, I'd always you assumed you were a fellow Upper West Sider -- something about your A2K persona just seems to say "Upper West Side" (and I mean that in the nicest way). I'm shocked to learn that you're on the other side of town. I don't know why the Upper West Side got power back so early, but we seem to have been several hours ahead of most of Manhattan. If it makes you feel any better, Greenwich Village didn't get power back until about 2:30, and Chelsea had to wait until Friday evening. By the way, if you weren't just engaging in hyperbole when you said you lost hundreds of dollars of food, you might want to check to see if the loss is covered by your homeowners/renters insurance, if the loss is over the deductible. I'm not sure how you'd go about proving it, but it might be worth a try.

jespah, thoughts of what happened in the South Tower of the WTC on 9/11 were not far from my mind when the facilities people tried to impede our departure from the building last week. A former co-worker was working in the South Tower that day, and when she was told to stay put, she basically said, "Bleep that bleep, I'm getting out of here," and convinced everyone else in her office to follow her. Needless to say, they're all eternally grateful to her.

I agree that it would have been nice if there had been more buses on the road, but I'm not sure if it would have been possible to get them out there. As it was, I think most of the bus drivers did great jobs under very trying circumstances. As I was crossing 42nd Street at Tenth Avenue, I saw two young-ish women pleading with the driver of an Academy bus that was stuck in traffic in the middle of the intersection to let them on the bus. When the driver refused, explaining that the bus was already too full, one of the women snarled, "I'll remember you!" I kept walking before it could get really ugly.
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Roberta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2003 10:34 pm
Jes, I agree with Bree. Not sure that more buses would have helped or made much difference, since nothing was moving anyway. At least bus service was free for the duration of the blackout.

Bree, Sorry to disappoint you. I've lived on the East Side since 1971. What can I tell ya?

Not exaggerating about the cost of the food I tossed out. Probably underestimating, in fact. But I don't have insurance. I let it lapse when I was in a financial crunch a few years ago. Still in a crunch. Still without insurance.

At least I have no complaints about my employer. (I'm self-employed. Never had a more understanding or caring boss.)
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2003 10:38 pm
My wife and I were on the Rocky Mountaineer in Canada headed westward towards Vancouver. Wink c.i.
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jespah
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Aug, 2003 06:23 am
Eh, well, the bus idea was a shot in the dark (no pun intended). The whole day was an exercise in, "what could they have done to improve things?" Particularly after 9/11, the whole city seemed so dang unprepared. While the powers that be are investigating whodunit and how to prevent it, they might want to put a few other things on their agenda:
* how to get gasoline to essential vehicles in a blackout - it wasn't just buses and taxis that were affected, but also ambulances and police cruisers
* how to set up fast emergency shelters. Hundreds of people sleeping on the Post Office steps was utterly unacceptable. If the city had, say, vouchers for hotels (yes, I know many of them were full, but hear me out here), permitting either additional room occupancy (four to a room instead of two, for example) or the setting up of cots or blankets and pillows in lobbies, a lot of that could have been alleviated. Mr. Jespah and I were considering the Hotel Pennsylvania as a last or second-to-last resort but of course there's no way we (or hundreds of other people) could have gotten in there.
* how to get police where they were needed, quickly. At the piers, we saw helicopters. They were probably military in nature. But a block away, there was no one directing traffic. Why not deploy police officers throughout the city to (a) direct traffic and (b) keep looting in check? So many intersections had no one (there were cars going the wrong way on the West Side Highway, for example). The fact that a store on Broadway was hit by looters says to me that no one was in the area.
* how to mobilize a volunteer force. With reference to the burglary on Broadway, it was right near Columbia. Columbia, of course, has a private security force, like most universities do. Why not call on them to do things like direct traffic? That way, the police can concentrate on criminal activity. Yes, there were volunteers trying to direct traffic, but they were few and far between and had no training. Often, they made the already bad situation far worse. Why not give them training, say, a half an hour's worth, so that they're not totally lost when it comes to what to do? And keep their numbers on hand, and call on them in the event of this kind of an emergency? Yes, many of them would not have been available, but some of them would have, and it could have made a difference.

I don't think it's a sign of weakness to be prepared for potential disasters. Even if there is never another blackout (and history shows that we get one every decade or so, so that's not a likely statement), there is the possibility of terrorist attacks. And, even if you discount that as a remote possibility, one thing is for certain - this area gets hit by hurricanes nearly every year. They often cause power outages and while they are predictable (thereby allowing for some preplanning), they are still situations that would benefit from added planning.
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