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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Niagara Mohawk Power Grid Overloaded May Be Outage Cause

Aired August 14, 2003 - 16:37   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, if you're just joining us, breaking news. A massive blackout in New York City, Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto, Ottawa, parts of Toledo.
We're sort of getting this news by the minute. We are getting phone calls from people within these areas, telling us about these blackouts that are taking place. We wish we could tell you what is happening. We don't know. We are working this story, trying to find out.

We did get word of some type of fire possibly, possibly an explosion on 14th Street in New York, a possible fire at the Edison plant in the New York area. Our John King joining me now via Washington, D.C.

John, you're getting information, working the phones along with all of us. What have you found out? Any new information?

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Kyra, not much new information, but a reflection here and the surprise of the scope of this. I spoke moments ago to a White House official who simply said they had very little information, that what they did know about the scope of the power outages has been passed on to the president, who is out in California at this hour. All the official could say.

And another official I spoke to at the White House could say that they are looking into it, that they have no information as yet as to the potential source of why this is happening.

I also communicated just a few moments ago with a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security. One question that comes up, and we must stress, we have no information at this point. One question, of course, could this be some sort of a terrorist attack? At the Department of Homeland Security, an official said they simply do not know yet, that they are scrambling to try to get information. Obviously, they would be quite concerned about that possibility. Major power outages reported in a number of U.S. cities -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, John. We'll continue to check in with you there at -- in Washington, D.C.

I'm told now on the phone with us, one of our producers for CNN. Also, we want to welcome our international viewers, who are now tuning in. For you viewers that are just joining us, a massive blackout that has taken place in New York City, a number of cities, actually, Detroit, Michigan, Cleveland, Ohio, Toronto, Ottawa, also parts of Toledo, Ohio.

With me on the phone at JFK Airport, we've been told that all airports have been shut down or all power is out at the airports. One being JFK Airport, Eli Flournoy on the phone with me now.

Eli, give me a sense for what you're seeing, what's happening. Have all operations stopped there at JFK?

ELI FLOURNOY, CNN PRODUCER: Kyra, just recently they used generators to get lights back on. But none of the systems are operating here at the airport. I'm calling from a pay phone, which the phone line is working on this pay phone.

However, none of the phone systems within the airport are working. I spoke with police officials here at the airport shortly ago, and they said that none of their phones -- and also none of their internal radio communications are working here in the airport.

The power went out here at approximately 4 p.m. Eastern time. Suddenly I had just arrived on an international flight from Italy and was in the international baggage concourse customs, and lights went out suddenly and completely and were out completely for approximately 10 minutes before the generators came on to give emergency backup light -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. Eli, could you kind of give us a feel for what it's like? What are people doing? Do they look concerned?

We were talking to Maria Hinojosa -- OK. Stay by, Eli.

We are going to go to Jason Carroll, our correspondent who's in our New York bureau right now. I understand he's got some more news of what's taking place -- Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kyra, we've just confirmed with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that, indeed, the subways are down, as well. And so obviously there are literally you thousands much people below ground within the subways who are trapped in transit at this point. They are stuck on trains below ground.

And normally when you have an emergency situation like this, until you can get a transportation worker down there, you basically have to -- you basically have to stay on the train until someone can come and get you off.

Now, more information is just coming in about some of the area hospitals. What do you have?

And so we're now being told there are three hospitals in the city that we've made calls to that are having problems with power, as well. St. Vincent's Hospital, one of the major hospitals here in the city being one of them. Obviously a number of these hospitals will have backup generators that should kick in the event of a power outage.

But also important to know that at least three of the hospitals that we've been able to get in contact with so far in the city are without power at this point. And that, obviously, is a major problem.

But, again, in addition to that, the transportation issue in the city is definitely going to be a major one because you've got the Long Island Railroad -- that is the major train that many commuters who are trying to get to Long Island and other areas -- that system is down.

You've got the subway system below ground. That is down.

So you literally, as I look out the window, when I see thousands of people out on the streets who are filing out of buildings, wandering on the sidewalks, you've got to imagine that below ground, you've got thousands of more people who are trapped on these trains below ground -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And Jason, I know you travel via the underground system. For those who are not familiar with New York City, I mean, these are trains. First of all, it's dark once you get into these tunnels, and these are -- I mean, these things are packed, and they're hot, right?

CARROLL: Absolutely, Kyra. Imagine, if you will, if you think of a city the size of Manhattan, think of a grid, if you will, of tunnels below the city. That is our subway system. And it is how the majority of most of Manhattannites get around.

And what you've got there is, as you said, a number of people, thousands of people who at this point are below ground in dark trains, where it obviously is going to get very hot very soon.

PHILLIPS: All right. Our Jason Carroll from inside our bureau there in New York City.

Of course, I'm getting a lot of information fed to me here as we bring you this story. I'll kind of give you an update right now and sort of read you all of the information I'm getting.

If you're just tuning in, major news breaking throughout the United States right now. And that is the news of blackouts starting in New York City, massive power outage that hit just about 4 p.m. Eastern time in New York. That power outage is reaching Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto, Ottawa, parts of Toledo.

A number of our correspondents, obviously, traveling to and from work. We've talked to Jason Carroll in our New York bureau, Maria Hinojosa on the streets of New York, actually sort of got bombarded by anxious people on the streets. They actually hung the phone up on her. We're trying to get back in touch with her to find out what's happened there on the streets.

Pretty much gone crazy, thousands of people not sure what's taking place.

Now at Penn Station, I'm told our Jeanne Moos on the phone with us.

Jeanne, were you en route, were you headed home from work? Tell us exactly where you are and what the scene is like.

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I was not headed home from work. I was up in the office. And I just walked down 21 flights and went into Penn Station.

Actually, first I tried to go down in the subway. And that was kind of scary because it was pitch black. I started to go down the steps toward the subway, realized I had no flashlight. And I mean, it was completely pitch black. I had a little trouble finding my way back up and tripped. There was some police tape on the way trying to come up because you can't see a thing down there.

And I could hear announcements being made down in the subway, where they were saying, you know, you must leave the trains at this time, you must exit the train.

Since I couldn't see down there, I came up into Penn Station, and I'm standing in front of the departure board at Penn Station, which is completely blank. It's not as if the trains are canceled; it's as if the board isn't working.

And now I'm just trying to listen to these announcements. Hold up. What's happening?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Citywide power outage.

MOOS: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please exit the building.

MOOS: You're evacuating the building?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The station will go completely black. I mean, it's your option to stay here.

MOOS: The generator won't keep these backup lights on?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It...

MOOS: You're not sure? OK.

Anyway, so they're making, you know, announcements by mouth here now because things aren't working, telling people to leave the building.

In the station, people are pretty calm about all this. I mean, there are people sitting on the floor, fanning themselves. People are trying to call out on their cell phones, but they're starting not to work because I think everyone is probably on them. And some people are stretching out on the floor and sort of getting comfortable.

And now they're telling people to leave, so those people are starting to leave the station. And that's the latest from Penn Station.

PHILLIPS: All right. Jeanne, I've got a question for you. I don't mean to put you on the spot. But as someone, a New Yorker and someone who's been there for awhile, I'm getting word now that a New York state official says the Niagara Mohawk Power grid is overloaded. Most likely what has happened here has been a natural occurrence, not an act of terrorism.

Once again, the Niagara Mohawk power grid overloaded. Are you familiar with this? Can you tell me anything about this? I know I'm throwing something a bit random at you.

MOOS: no, I don't know anything about that.

I'm sort of amazed at how calm everyone is around here. You know, at first everyone did sort of freak out, they think it's a terrorist thing, but they're pretty quiet and calm about it.

PHILLIPS: All right. Our Jeanne Moos there at Penn Station, actually telling us it's a bit calm, quite different from what Maria Hinojosa told us.

Right now, you are looking at -- is this WDNX? OK. And this is a live picture, correct? OK. As far as we know, this is a live picture via WDNX. Can you guys tell me what affiliate this is? OK. Can you tell me what affiliate? OK. This is a New York affiliate.

WDNX, live pictures now here of New York City. I'll try and find out what area this is.

Are we able to dip in on this coverage, folks, and listen in? Actually, this is WGCL, affiliate WGCL. Let's try and listen in to the local coverage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: continue to follow this story. Hopefully they find a cause. Massive power outage.

PHILLIPS: All right. We're not hearing anything. Where is WGCL? Where is that affiliate, if I can get word of where that's coming to us from? We are getting -- actually, our first live picture there in New York City.

Richard Roth now, I'm told, is with us on the phone. He's our U.N. Correspondent.

Richard, are you inside the U.N. there, and what's the situation with the power?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm inside a darkened United Nations, Kyra.

They have made several announcements over the loudspeakers. They are dismissing employees early if they'd like to, and they said that if anyone can't use the stairs, to call the fire department because the elevators are out. I am looking out at First Avenue in Manhattan on New York's east side, where there is a heavier concentration of people waiting for buses, which have been operating. No noticeable sign of any disorder or panic. A few people standing and looking up inside the U.N. grounds and several people standing around and talking.

The Security Council had concluded a few hours ago, an Iraq resolution debate, and thus there were no major meetings taking place at this time.

There is, of course, as the other New York correspondents have said, it is still daylight out, and the mood is certainly -- people are getting, you know, battle-tested here in New York City. It might be a little different at night. Certainly a lot of people would like to get home by then.

Of course, Kyra, I was in New York for the two other major blackouts here, 1965, which was sort of a family affair, was a big innovation. It was a new experience. People hugged, made new friends. They probably made children.

Nineteen-seventy-seven, a lot different, major looting and violence. So those are the two major New York blackout experiences -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: That's right. I remember. As a matter of fact, I've got information here, Richard, of the massive blackout of 1965, that it was called. Evidently it had many ramifications. It forced Americans to reconsider their dependence on electricity and actually propelled electrical engineers to reexamine the power grid system. Pretty interesting.

Richard, I mean, since you know a bit of the history there, you mentioned it. Actually, we got a bit of information coming from the New York state officials, telling us that the Niagara Mohawk Power grid has been overloaded. Most likely a natural occurrence, we are told, not an act of terrorism, according to a New York state official.

Talking about the Niagara Mohawk Power grid being overloaded.

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