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2003: The great North America blackout

The Story

Shortly after 4 p.m. ET on Aug. 14, 2003, more than 50 million North Americans find themselves without power in the most widespread blackout in the history of electrical civilization. As seen in this raw TV footage of the day, Toronto -- along with number of cities including New York, Cleveland and Ottawa -- comes to standstill as traffic lights, office buildings, the subway and the airport are shut down. The blackout extends over 24,000 square kilometers, from Chicago all the way over to and down the Atlantic coast, including most of Ontario.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Aug. 14, 2003
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Duration: 8:51

Did You know?

• The 2003 blackout was short lived and power was restored in most regions the next day.

• The blackout affected 10 million Canadians and 40 million Americans.

• In Canada, the power out affected most of Ontario including Toronto, Ottawa, Kingston, Sudbury, Kitchener, London and Windsor.

• Power outages were also reported in Cleveland, Toledo, New York City, Buffalo, Albany, Long Island, Westchester County, Rockland County, Detroit, New Jersey, Vermont and Connecticut.

• Quebec was not affected because its power supply is not part of the Lake Erie transmission loop, which is a system of lines that circles Lake Erie.

• A report on the causes of the blackout blamed Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corporation. After coming in contact with some overgrown trees, power lines from a FirstEnergy generating plant in a suburb of Cleveland had shut down. A technical glitch meant the proper alarms didn't show up on their control system, so FirstEnergy wasn't able to react or warn anyone else until it was too late. A cascading effect ensued, and in the end, more than 100 power plants in Ontario and the Northeastern U.S. had shut down.

• Some famous power outages in Canada include:
-- The Northeast Blackout of 1965, which affected Ontario along with Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, New York, and New Jersey. Across 207,000 square kilometers, approximately 25 million people were without electricity for up to 12 hours.
-- Six million people had no power for nine or more hours in Quebec on March 13, 1989, when a geomagnetic storm caused a Hydro-Quebec power failure.
-- In January 1998, ice storms destroyed transmission towers and caused massive prolonged power outages. Quebec was the hardest hit.

Also on August 14:
1945: VJ Day celebrations break out as Emperor Hirohito calls upon Japan's war council to surrender unconditionally, ending the Second World War. The total cost of the war to Canada: $11 billion and 42,000 dead.
1968: Major League Baseball officially approves Montreal's franchise. The team, later named the Expos, would play in the East division of the National League. The team moved to Washington in 2005.
1992: A three-member tribunal rules the Canadian Armed Forces's mandatory retirement policy is discriminatory.


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