World Amazed at North American Blackout

From London to Tokyo, a perplexed world looked on Friday as massive power outages in the United States and Canada grabbed global headlines with scenes of pitch-black cities, silenced subways and stymied airports.

"You can't tell me that the whole of the U.S. and Canada can't even sort out their national grid. It's ridiculous," said Becky Jones, 27, whose Virgin Atlantic flight to New York returned to London midway across the Atlantic due to the blackout.

British Airways said it had canceled nine flights from Britain to North America, affecting more than 1,400 passengers bound for New York, Philadelphia, Toronto and Montreal.

At Frankfurt international airport in Germany, incoming U.S. flights were delayed by up to seven hours, spokesman Wolf-Dieter Schaller said, as the blackout rolled across a vast swath of the northern United States and southern Canada.

The massive power outages grabbed headlines from Tokyo to London with scenes of city workers fleeing their buildings when the power went off shortly after 4 p.m. EDT Thursday.

"Blackout Hell for 50 Million" said The Sun tabloid in Britain.

"Chaos in America" read a front-page headline in Bild, Germany's top-circulation daily.

"New York knocked out" said the Swedish Aftonbladet tabloid, which carried a photograph of masses of people crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.

News of the blackout played almost continuously on Britain's 24-hours news stations, Sky and BBC News 24. Cameras trained on New York City's crowded streets played back live images of droves of city workers walking home.

The scenes of chaos left many scratching their heads.

"How could such a thing happen? I mean, everything was shut down?" said Setsuko Kato, a 55-year-old Japanese housewife. "It would be a disaster if that happens here."

The blackout struck a chord in Tokyo, where many had feared the capital would see its own massive power outages this summer.

Earlier this year, authorities closed down 17 of the nuclear reactors that feed Tokyo for safety checks, and many experts predicted the biggest blackouts in decades as the city cranked up the August air conditioning.

While terrorism was swiftly ruled out by President Bush and other officials, there was scant indication of what had caused the North American outage.

The uncertainty didn't seem to faze foreign financial markets, however. Following the lead of Asian markets, the London and Frankfurt stock exchanges opened slightly higher Friday.

"The fact that there is no suspicion of terrorism is reassuring, and investors have accepted that it is not connected to any terrorist act," said trader John Yap at UOB Kay Hian in Singapore.