The Blackout of '03
On Tursday afternoon, August 14, 2003 at 4:11 PM New York City was plunged into its first complete blackout since the infamous 1977 blackout. In fact, the power grid over much of the Eastern seaboard into Quebec and as far west as Detroit was down. Although fears of terrorism immediately flooded everyone's mind, the initial assessment was that this was a technical rather than a political problem.
In a stupor, commuters and residents filed away into the sunny afternoon and flooded the streets in an effort to get to their distant homes. With an insufficient number of busses to make up for the lost rail lines, walks of three to five hours were not uncommon. The steps of the post office just behind Penn Station became a giant outdoor homeless shelter.
While power began returning to various points in the city around 9PM that night, large areas of the city were still dark as of noon on 8/15. Although the system worked to prevent damage to the multitude of plants feeding the grid, many plants (especially the nuclear plants) required extensive time before they could be brought online. The upstate power authority ordered Con Ed to reduce power consumption (and leave people offline) until the threat of a lawsuit forced them to back down.
The Lower East Side, the final area of the city to receive power, was brought back online around 10PM Friday night. The subway system was entirely shut down and for safety reasons could not restart until 6 to 9 hours after power was completely restored in the city.