RealTime IT News

U.S., Canada Powerless for 2nd Night

Officials are already calling it the largest power outage in the history of the United States.

But even as the electricity began coming slowly back online by midday Friday, many of the 50 million residents in New York, Toronto, Ottawa, Detroit, Ohio and Connecticut who were left without power Thursday came to the realization they may spend the weekend without lights and services including water and gasoline.

"My wife and I took the kids down to our local lake last night just to bathe them and keep them cool," said one Connecticut resident who wished to remain anonymous.

Thousands of people in Manhattan commuters ended up crashing at a co-worker's apartment, walking miles back to their homes or even sleeping on the street.

Some power was restored by daybreak, about 9 million remained without power by 8 p.m. EST, but rolling blackouts plagued upstate New York. Much of the blacked out areas in Ohio suffered critical water shortages, and an emergency shipment of about 1 million gallons of gasoline was delivered to the Detroit area.

What seems to be a mystery to power officials is where the problem started. Some suggested a mishap in the Midwest. Others have said it's too soon to rule out power stations in New York and Canada as the flashpoint.

President Bush blamed the problem on "an antiquated system" to distribute electricity nationally.

"It's a wake-up call," Bush said during a tour of a California national park. "The grid needs to be modernized, the delivery systems need to be modernized."

One thing is clear, terrorism does not appear to be the cause, nor does the W32/Blaster worm, which wreaked havoc with hundreds of thousands of computer users earlier this week.

"There is no information available at this time to indicate that the power outages in the northeast United States and Canada are related to intruder activity," according to CERT Coordination Center, which monitors Internet backbone security and performance.

Throughout the United States, ISPs and network operators were among the first to detect an infrastructure problem thanks to sophisticated monitoring systems. America Online saw the number of members using its service plummet from 2.4 million to 2.1 million in seconds.

At 11 a.m. today, about 1.9 million AOL members were online, still about 200,000 short of last Friday at the same time.

"The fact that we haven't heard too much about this topic, other than Fidelity shutting down after hours trading, suggests that everything went smoothly," reports Steve Kenniston, technology analyst at Enterprise Storage Group. "All of the financial institutions told everyone to come into work, so that shows things were fine as well...Since 9/11, there is a heightened sense of awareness around these factors, and despite what the public may or may not know or hear about IT, a number of folks that consider data protection a key asset to longevity of their business did take action."

Hewlett-Packard said it had one customer who declared a disaster -- but nothing too serious. A partner, which has a business services agreement with HP and mirrored data, switched over production to HP's 50,000 square-foot recovery center in Philadelphia and is back up and running. Several other customers have notified HP that they too may be running operations out of the center if the outage goes on much longer.

The biggest black eye seems to be coming from the cellular companies. While some carriers reported "normal" service on Friday morning, others, including Cingular Wireless, were still experiencing problems. As of mid-day Friday, the company said that 700 cell sites in New York City and Long Island are still down, though more than 800 impacted sites have already been restored.

The situation in the Midwest remains dire, with more than 75 percent of Cingular's sites out of operation in Detroit and Bloomfield, Mich. About 25 percent of its sites in Cleveland, Ohio, were down. Cingular said that systems running on generators have enough fuel to last for a few days.

Verizon said it handled more than four times a normal day's volume on its network yesterday in power-affected areas -- not all calls went through on the first try due to the high call volume.

"The worst that people ran into was a fast busy signal," said spokesman John Johnson.

Sprint PCS spokesman Dan Wilinsky said that its network facilities were "returning to normal", and that the carrier's long distance and cell phone switches "survived unscathed."

Editor's note: Compiled from various internetnews.com reports and Associated Press wires.