Power Slowly Returns, Cause Sought

Power is slowly returning to parts of New York and other Northeast cities this morning but transit systems and communications networks are still groaning under the strain of the worst blackout in U.S. history.

Besides New York, Cleveland, Detroit and Toronto were worst hit. New England was largely spared, although southwest Connecticut, a grid weak spot, has isolated problems. Even where power was restored, residents and businesses are being asked to conserve power and some rolling blackouts were planned.

The utilities and the U.S. and Canadian governments are still pinpointing the cause of the outage that left 50 million people without power.

Stephen Whitley, ISO New England’s COO, said the problem originated in the Midwest. Other power officials and politicians have said it’s too soon to rule out power stations in New York and Canada as the flashpoint.

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 bacbone security and performance.

Telecom carriers saw heavy traffic. Some mobile phone relay facilities shut down, while others switched to backup power. New York users experienced the worst delays, although Verizon, the Northeast’s dominant carrier, said networks are holding up.

Internet service provider AOL said it saw 300,000 of its members drop off the network when they lost power. Numbers have been coming back slowly, though this morning were still off about 10 percent, AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said.

New York subways are still paralyzed and will likely not run until tomorrow. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is asking workers to stay home unless absolutely necessary. He praised residents for their calmness and patience during the night. In past blackouts, the city saw widespread looting.

Airlines and Amtrack are experiencing delays. Amtrack is waiting for power to return to a stretch of track between New Haven, Conn., and New York, before resuming service in the area.

Looking to retain a sense of normalcy, the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq opened on time this morning. Stocks are mixed, and unsurprisingly, volume is extremely slow.

The domino blackout prompted President Bush and other political leaders to call for a moderization of the country’s interconnected power grid. Critics say there is poor communication between federal regulators and the state power company operators.

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