Jed Boal ReportingThe lights are slowly coming back on in parts of the Northeast tonight after the largest blackout in US history. The lack of electricity brought planes, trains and automobiles to a virtual standstill. Subways and elevators stopped in their tracks.
And with 90-degree temperatures thousands of New Yorkers flooded the streets to escape the stifling heat of non-air conditioned buildings.
The power outage streches from New York to Ohio, and into Canada.
For a time, many wondered if it could be an act of terrorism, but it appears lightning struck a major power grid in upstate New York, causing a cascade effect throughout the power grid.
Utah Power had little fear today for its system or the Western grid when electricity died in the Northeast. Electric Companies are tied together regionally. But as we saw today, a disturbance within a region can wreak havoc.
Just as rush hour started in New York City a stressful commute got a lot hotter. The lights went out on Broadway. The blackout rippled through the region killing power in parts of the northeast, mid-west and Canada. New York City commuters on the street were paralyzed by the power loss.
Arnold Austin, Stranded Commuter: “And we were stuck for about a half an hour in the dark, hot smuggy train.”
So people walked down the streets, across the bridges or headed for the ferry.
Officials say a lightning strike at a Niagra Falls Power Plant caused a huge power surge that blew out regional lines.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York: “With a lot of luck later on this evening, we will look back on this and say, where were you when the lights went out? But nobody will have gotten hurt."
Electric power in North America is divided into 10 regions coordinated by reliability councils. There are interconnections among the grids in the east and northeast, but no interconnections with the west and Utah.
Margaret Kesler, Utah Power: “We're part of a different coordinating council. Today there seems to be no large disturbance."
But, on any given day Utah Power says many things can happen to cause outages both isolated and widespread.
Margaret Kesler, Utah Power: “Outages on the scale that we're seeing back east right now are few and far between."
Oddly enough, a blackout in Sandy cut power to about 750 customers shortly after three o'clock. Utah Power crews replaced some equipment that failed and power resumed for most of those customers about nine o’clock.
This isn't the -first time a massive blackout has affected the northeast.
On November 9, 1965, seven states and two Canadian provinces went black leaving 30-million people in the dark. It became known as "The Great Blackout."
And on July 13, 1977 lightning knocked out power to all five of New York City's boroughs, and some suburban areas. Looting resulted in more than three thousand arrests.