The Blackout of 2003

In our block, the power returned at around 9:45 p.m., marking the end of a very interesting day. I was in the Alternatives Journal office, having just backed up the day's work, when the power went out. All the computers shut off, and the air conditioner went silent. The silence was actually shocking to behold. As my predecessor was just off the phone talking to someone who had seen power go out in Kitchener, we quickly realized that this wasn't just a campus problem. Then we heard that Toronto was out, that Chatham was out, and Ottawa. Then we heard New York.

There was some nervousness throughout this period. When the power first went out, we thought it was a campus problem. When we realized the whole city was affected, and it being a hot day, we blamed it on Ernie Eves. When we heard New York, a little voice in our heads spoke that word: terrorism. Thank goodness officials were quick to discount that little fear.

Getting home was interesting. My father was several minutes late picking me up; no surprise, given that all of the traffic lights were out. Heading home, we spotted a local hero, a young man straight off the sidewalk, standing in the centre of University and Westmount, directing traffic. Police officers were coming on the scene at other intersections, and we were moving, albeit slowly. In Toronto, reports were of controlled chaos. The subway was offline, but evacuated in thirty minutes. There were no reports of looting or panic, just patience and resignation...

The phone rang off the hook, with friends and family members asking if we were all right. My sister Wendy and her husband Lars, in Ann Arbor, were also without power. Marguerite told me of a number of lab experiments that were affected in Brookhaven, and people with an hour-and-a-half commute ahead of them considering staying the night, cooking on the bunsen burners...

One thing that intrigued me about the blackout was how much more affected we were by it than in previous years. Without television, our stereo system, or a functioning internet, we were without news, until I finally pulled out a battery powered radio and tuned in some local stations. Portions of the CBC got knocked out of the air because transmission tower reserve power drained away. Most surprising of all, cellphones proved useless, as the relay towers ran out of battery power thirty minutes into the blackout. You'd think the cellphone companies would have prepared for this better.

As I write this, Toronto is still without power. Portions of the province are coming back online bit by bit. The whole evening felt like a bit of an adventure, at least in my neck of the woods. After the sun set, Erin and I headed outside to look at the stars, which were now the brightest we'd seen within the city limits. All our neighbours were out, with car radios playing, flashlights dancing, and conversations going. Though the houses were dark, the neighbourhood was brilliant.

blog comments powered by Disqus