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Where Were You When It Happened?

A traffic jam along New York’s First Avenue during the November, 1965 power blackout (Getty Images)

Some people were already having dinner.  Millions of others were on their way home or getting ready to leave their jobs for the day when the biggest power failure in American history turned the lights out across New York State, seven other states and parts of eastern Canada.  In New York City alone 800,000 people were trapped in subways. Thousands more were stranded in office buildings, elevators, and trains. The National Guard and off-duty police officers were called in to prevent looting.

It affected 30-million people in eight states plus Ontario and Quebec.  And the lights stayed out for hours until crews were able to gradually bring the power back and by the following morning nearly everybody was back on line.

That massive power failure began nearly in our backyard.  It was a 230-thousand volt transmission line at the Niagara Power Station in Lewiston that went down for 2 and a half seconds causing a surge of power that overloaded five other lines.  It overwhelmed the transmission lines in Western New York causing them to trip and started a chain reaction of other lines to trip and it shut down the entire transmission system to  plunge the northeast into the dark.

It all happened at 5:16 pm on this date in 1965.

Nearly 38 years later, on a very hot day on August 14, 2003 a similar blackout affected most of the Eastern United States and Canada.

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