Published January 13, 2015
New York City and other North American metropolises were paralyzed by a power blackout Thursday, but this wasn’t the first time some have been thrust into darkness.
Thursday's blackouts, which plunged around half of New York’s 19 million people into the dark according to New York Gov. George Pataki, rivaled those in the West on Aug. 11, 1996, when heat, sagging power lines and unusually high demand for electricity caused an outage that affected 4 million customers in nine states, one of the most severe outages in U.S. history.
While navigating a pitch-black city was a new experience for some New Yorkers, the Big Apple has lost its spark before.
On Nov. 9, 1965, an electric power failure blacked out an 80,000-square mile area of the Northeastern U.S. and two provinces of Southeastern Canada, according to Facts on File, affecting around 25 million people.
In New York City, an estimated 800,000 persons were stranded in subways that came to a halt. Airports were shut down causing at least 200 airplanes to be diverted to other airports.
Power was restored in most affected areas by early Nov. 10.
In 1977, lightning struck two of Consolidated Edison’s major 345,000-volt transmission lines, resulting in the shutdown of the utility's two largest generating facilities.
This blackout left some 9 million people without electricity for up to 25 hours and resulted in widespread rioting, looting and arson and 3,000 arrests.
All 25,000 city policemen and all firemen were ordered on duty, according to The Record, but despite the massive force on the streets, more than 2,000 stores were looted, resulting in losses that were estimated near $1 billion.
In July 2002, more than 60,000 people lost power for seven hours in Manhattan's lower west side and subway service was disrupted after a transformer fire erupted at a downtown plant, according to New York City Emergency Management.
From January to March 2001, San Francisco suffered a series of dark days when statewide rolling blackouts were ordered after a combination of power-plant outages and unusually warm weather caused demand for power to outstrip supply.
During the March 19 blackouts, California power managers said at least one million customers lost power, according to Facts on File.
In December of 1998, San Francisco suffered a citywide blackout — caused by electrical workers who turned on power without proper grounding while working on power lines — that cut off power to nearly a million people.
The power went out for about 940,000 people across the 49-square-mile city and in several suburbs, The Orange County Register reported. Electricity was restored more than seven hours later, a PG&E spokeswoman said.
In a post-Sept. 11 New York, the first reaction to an unexplained event is simply: terrorism. In 1965 the reaction was similar — during the Cold War era some thought the blackout meant a foreign invasion was near.
Alan Prince of Roxbury, Conn., told The Record he remembered walking on Manhattan's East Side and hearing teenagers yelling, "The Russians are coming. The Russians are coming."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.