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This Day in History, 2003: The Great Northeast Blackout - Tenth Anniversary

Ten years ago today was the Great Blackout of 2003, which hit much of the northeast United States and parts of Canada. Where were you?

I was at home (in Brookline, Massachusetts, which did not lose power) on the computer when the phone rang at 4:33 PM. It was my younger brother, Josh, in New York City, calling to ask me if I knew what was going on. As I had left the TV news on in the living room, and the TiVo was recording its buffer, I was able to start describing the news to him and I learned of the blackout as I told him what was going on.

I served as the point person for my younger brother, my sister-in-law, and my mother for the next few hours. Josh had to sleep overnight in Manhattan. Rachel had to care for their new baby daughter, and I gave her information on New York City emergency lines and hospitals. And Mom stayed home.

I recorded NBC Nightly News that evening and the Today show the next day, and a few months later I gave the VHS tape to Josh so he could see what he missed.

As I mentioned above, Massachusetts (and pretty much most of New England) didn't lose power. After one of the major blackouts a few decades before, the people in charge in New England had decided to set up a series of switches that could be opened should there be a power surge that might lead to a shutdown. Thanks to their foresight, I was able to help out my family as I described.


I was at work typing away when the overhead lights went out. Thirty seconds later I was tearing into the server farm to make sure my babies were ok on UPS / generator power.

I spent the night there because I was 5 months pregnant and it wasn't safe for me to walk home in the heat. I ate the ice cream they were giving away in the cafeteria, and I went to the roof to see if I could see the stars. No dice - every other building around me was running on generators too, I could hardly tell the difference from normal. I hear it was a different story after Sandy, but I wasn't on the "critical must be on site" list for that, thankfully.
I was in Manhattan. Walked home from work and saw vendors giving away ice cream and grilling hot dogs for passerby, came home to find Julliard students playing Dave Matthews in the courtyard all night. I was amazed at how positive and generous everyone was.

December 2016

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