Bemusement, anger and exhaustion in cities left without power

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The Independent US

The lights in New York's Times Square may have flickered back to life yesterday morning but millions of people across a wedge of the US and Canada were left struggling with chaos and uncertainty as the biggest power cut in North American history continued to wreak havoc.

The lights in New York's Times Square may have flickered back to life yesterday morning but millions of people across a wedge of the US and Canada were left struggling with chaos and uncertainty as the biggest power cut in North American history continued to wreak havoc.

President George Bush said he would order a review of why so many states were hit by the blackout and said he suspected the grid would have to be modernised. "Millions of people's lives are affected," he said. "I fully understand that their lives will not be normal for the short run. Slowly but surely we're coping with this massive national problem."

In New York, Ottawa, Cleveland and Detroit and others cities across the north-east, just a fraction of people had access to full power as officials sought to restore electricity supplies that came to a sudden halt on Thursday. On another hot and humid day across the region, there was no way to power to computers, subways, televisions, air conditioners or financial trading systems.

"Power won't be restored to all New Yorkers until later today," said the city's mayor Michael Bloomberg yesterday morning. "I would not expect you to have subway service for the evening rush hour."

In Canada, Ontario's premier, Ernie Eves, echoed Mr Bloomberg's plea and asked people to take the day off, stay at home and conserve whatever energy there was. "I urge all Ontarians to refrain from using highways and fuel and to stay home when possible as we work toward a solution."

Estimating the extent of the problem affecting up to 50 million people was far from straightforward. Many of the effects of the power cut that struck the Niagara Mohawk grid at 4.11pm on Thursday have not been fully realised: Backlogs in the transportation system, for instance, were still playing out yesterday.

"[The airlines] are trying to catch up," said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Laura Brown said. "They have equipment all over the place."

In New York, city officials said there would be no morning or evening rush-hour service on the city's subways and that suburban trains were equally affected. But it was not just the physical hardships that people have had to bear that upset so many, including the hundreds of haggard individuals who had slept rough in the streets of New York. Rather it was the incredulity that a single power failure could have had such a devastating effect and that, 20 hours or more later, officials could still not agree the cause of the problem.

The office of Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said a Pennsylvania nuclear power plant failure may have caused it, while officials in Canada and the US had earlier suggested that a fire or lightning had hit a power plant near Niagara Falls in New York state. Later, others suggested that the problem may have started in northern Ohio and then spread from the mid-west.

All appeared to focus on the aging electricity transmission grid, large parts of which date from the years after the Second World War. The Governor of New York, George Pataki, asked: "How did this happen, why did it happen and why did we have a systemic failure across the power grid in the north-east when we were told after the blackout in the 1960s this would not happen again?"

Given the potential for injury and death because of the numbers of people who were trapped inside buildings or in underground trains, there appears to have ben remarkably few people injured.

Unconfirmed reports suggested a total of three people had died across the region affected by the power cut.

In Sudbury, north of Toronto, more than 100 workers at a nickel mine were forced to stay underground because elevators were not working. Authorities said they were in no immediate danger.

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