Little Bits of History

When the Lights Went Out

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 13, 2014
After the Bushwick rioting during the power outage

Bushwick after the rioting during the power outage

July 13, 1977: New York City loses power. Other blackouts have hit the city when the power grid goes down. In both 1965 and 2003, the city lost power, but so did much of the surrounding region. During these two days in July, the blackout was basically restricted to New York City with just southern Queens and some neighborhoods in the Rockaways still with electricity. On this day, at 8:37 PM, lightning struck at Buchanan South, a substation on the Hudson River. The lightning strike tripped two circuit breakers in Buchanan. The substation converted the 345,000 volts of electricity from Indian Point to lower voltage for commercial use. There had been inadequate upgrades and a loose locking nut prevented the breaker from reclosing and allowing the power to flow again.

A second lightning strike caused a second 345 kV line to be lost and the loss of power from the 900 MW nuclear power plant at Indian Point was also lost. Because of the two lightning strikes, two major lines were loaded over their limits. As procedure stated, Con Edison (the power provider for New York City and some of Westchester County) tried to fast start the system at 8:45 PM. No one was actually at the station and the remote restart failed. At 8:55 PM there were two more lightning strikes which took out two more critical transmission lines. One of the lines was automatically returned to service; the other was not. This caused the servicing line to exceed limits and Con Edison had to reduce the load on another generator because of this overload. This just made a bad situation worse.

At 9:14 PM, New York Power Pool Operators in Guilderland (165 miles away and near the state capital) called and asked Con Edison to “shed load” and so they cut power first by 5% and then by 8% which took time to implement. Unfortunately, what Power Pool meant was to significantly drop the load by a much larger margin. At 9:19 PM, the final major interconnection to Upstate New York tripped and due to overheating, with this final insult links to Long Island and New Jersey began to have problems. At 9:22, Long Island Lighting Company tried to help but the system was spiraling out of control. In a domino effect, more stations were lost and by 9:36, New York City was without power. By 10:26, operators were beginning to restore power but it was not back on until late the next day.

The city was already in upheaval due to financial constraints and the Son of Sam murders. The entire nation was in a recession and the weather was unseasonably hot. All these conspired to make the atmosphere in the dark, hot city a powder keg. Looting and vandalism hit 31 neighborhoods. The hardest hit neighborhoods were Crown Heights were 75 stores were looted and in Bushwick where 25 arson fires were still burning the next morning. There were 35 blocks of Broadway destroyed with 134 stores looted and 45 of them set on fire. During the blackout, 550 police officers were injured and 4,500 looters were arrested. In total, 1,616 stores were damaged by looting and rioting and there were a total of 1,037 fires that were bad enough for fire response with 14 multiple-alarm fires.

Electricity is really just organized lightning. – George Carlin

Ben Franklin may have discovered electricity- but it is the man who invented the meter who made the money. – Earl Warren

We forget just how painfully dim the world was before electricity. A candle, a good candle, provides barely a hundredth of the illumination of a single 100 watt light bulb. – Bill Bryson

And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light, but the Electricity Board said He would have to wait until Thursday to be connected. – Spike Milligan

Also on this day: You’re Out – In 1978, Lee Iacocca is fired from Ford.
Hollywood – In 1923, the HOLLYWOOD sign was dedicated.
Pop Goes the Weasel – In 1812, New York City passes its first pawnbroker ordinance.
Cubed – In 1944, Erno Rubik was born.

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