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Massive power blackout top news story of 2003

BY MICHAEL JAMES Looking back over the past year, the single most memorable incident to take place in the City of Greater Sudbury Â? and large parts of North America Â? was the massive power blackout that took place in August.

Looking back over the past year, the single most memorable incident to take place in the City of Greater Sudbury Â? and large parts of North America Â? was the massive power blackout that took place in August. It struck without warning.

On Aug. 14, at approximately 4:15 pm Eastern Standard time, everything in Sudbury that ran on electrical power simply shut down, effectively incapacitating the city.

No one was left untouched by the calamity. And while the power outage inconvenienced pretty much everyone, most residents of the City of Greater Sudbury kept a level head and took things in stride.

Without the power to run their computers, cook dinner or watch television, the citizens of Sudbury were forced to find novel ways of coping with the unprecedented situation. Those who had barbecues, simply fired them up.

Those who didnÂ?t, made do with a salad or a sandwich. Many gathered with friends and neighbours on their backyard decks and passed away the hours engaged in conversation.

Those fortunate enough to own a battery powered transistor radio listened intently, hoping not only for an explanation of what had happened, but news of when the ordeal might reasonably be expected to end.

What those listening to the radio Aug. 14 heard were rumours the problem originated from a power station in Ohio.

OntarioÂ?s antiquated power grid, they heard, being linked to the American grid, but lacking the emergency mechanisms necessary to avert disaster, followed suit like a stack of dominoes.

They also heard reports stating as many as 50 million people in Ontario, New York State and large parts of the northeastern United States had been paralyzed by the blackout.

Back home in Sudbury, some people lit bonfires in their backyards, participated in sing-a-longs and generally had a good time.

Come morning, some industrious souls, at least, those with a barbecue, even managed to make themselves a passable cup of coffee along with a hearty, campfire-style breakfast.

Those who discovered they were still without power when it was time to start thinking about going in to work, decided to take the day off.

The good people of Garson and Hanmer, however, werenÂ?t so lucky.

Their power was reportedly restored some time around 8 am the morning of Aug. 15.

The rest of the city, however, especially the downtown core, was still without power.

Those who successfully managed to navigate the city streets without the benefit of operational traffic lights, arrived at work only to discover their place of business was closed.

By the time power was restored at approximately 9:40 am., much of the city had been without power for 17 hours.
People started to assess the damage.

Homeowners and apartment dwellers were faced with the task of having to throw out much of what was in their fridges.

The poor and the elderly, at least those on fixed incomes, were the hardest hit.

A number of restaurant owners and grocery store managers had to throw out hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars worth of spoiled food.

Perhaps the single most remarkable thing about the whole ordeal was how the people of Sudbury pulled together during the ordeal.

Also noteworthy, according to the Greater Sudbury Police Service, was the fact there wasnÂ?t a single reported incident of criminal activity related to the power outage.

Police officers had to set up at some of the cityÂ?s busiest intersections to allow for a smooth flow of traffic, but there were no serious accidents and no reported incidents of vandalism or crime related directly to the blackout.

Managers for the City of Greater Sudbury praised all of the partners involved in the cityÂ? emergency preparedness plan as all backup systems to run crucial services like the cityÂ?s water and sewer systems kicked in without any significant problems.

After the dust finally settled, the average citizen was left with the realization they could no longer take their energy consumption for granted.

Whether significant numbers of people respond by committing to energy conservation practices remains to be seen.

(Please read the Sunday, Jan. 4 edition of Northern Life to find out who the top newsmakers of the year were in the City of Greater Sudbury in 2003 as well as to read about all of the the other top news stories of the year)