Midwest struggles against overload

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Power slowly returned yesterday to the Midwestern areas hit by Thursday's blackout, but some residents still faced a potentially hot, dark and thirsty weekend as officials tried not to overload the electric system and water pumps that had shut down during the outage were operating at diminished capacity.

"We call it boot camp," said Harvey Mallin, whose suburban Detroit home lost electricity and running water. "It's like camping except within four walls. We get to sleep down in the basement. We're making our own latrine."

The Detroit and Cleveland areas, the major Midwestern population centers struck by the nation's largest-ever power outage, continued to experience sporadic electric and water services.

While most of the 1.4 million Ohioans who lost their electricity Thursday had it restored by yesterday afternoon, officials there and elsewhere instituted rolling blackouts to prevent overloading the system, so residents occasionally found themselves back in the dark.

In Michigan, there were warnings that power may not be fully restored before the end of the weekend. As of yesterday evening, there were an estimated 1.2 million people still without power in the Detroit area.

The pumping stations halted by the power outage were turned back on yesterday, although residents were urged to conserve water, and to boil it in case impurities had entered the system. In Detroit, the water department was pumping about half its usual volume, and in Cleveland, the National Guard trucked in thousands of gallons of water to boost supplies.

Still, even as officials like Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm declared a state of emergency in parts of the area, Midwesterners largely took the travails in stride.

Some were ready

Some, accustomed to the extreme weather of their area - the ice storms and blizzards of the winter, the oppressive heat and humidity of the summer - were well prepared for the blackout. They've always kept supplies of water, batteries and other practicalities on hand for that sudden power outage that is an all-too-common experience.

In fact, Thursday's blackout initially seemed like just another case of a system straining under all the air conditioners working at full-blast during a typical Midwestern heat wave.

"I was outside working ... when I noticed the pump in the pool shut off," said Jeff Kaiser, who lives on Grosse Ile, an island in the Detroit River at the mouth of Lake Erie. "I just assumed it was one of those deals we get in the hot weather."

Oddly enough, his cable television service was still functioning, so he soon found out his town was part of the blackout. Luckily, Kaiser has a generator that he used to keep the refrigerator running, so he invited siblings who live further inland from his waterfront home to come over and enjoy the breeze and cool refreshments.

"We just hung out, lit candles and barbecued outside since nothing else worked," said Kaiser, a former major league pitcher. "And the beer was cold."

A major problem yesterday seemed to be gasoline - the stations that had power and thus could operate their pumps drew lines of cars anxious to fill up. Kaiser, whose wife took his car yesterday because hers was almost empty, said there was an hour wait at the gas station closest to his house.

Walid Mohamed, who owns a gas station in Cleveland, would love to have such problems.

"I don't have power," Mohamed said. "I don't have water."

With nothing to sell, he stayed at the station because once the power went out Thursday, he couldn't lock the doors.

"I'm losing $2,500 to $4,000 a day," he said. "That's a lot of money."

Linda Buckhanon saw her money going down the drain yesterday when she had to throw away the deviled eggs, chicken wings, cream-cheese-stuffed jalapeno peppers and other hors d'oeuvres that she had made for a pre-wedding party she was supposed to cater today.

"I'm just a small-business person," said Buckhanon, who operates her catering business from her home in Maple Heights, a Cleveland suburb. "They want to reschedule it for next Saturday, so I guess that'll just have to come out of my pocket."

Her power returned yesterday morning, but went out again later in the afternoon.

Similarly, water service was returning slowly and spottily. In Cleveland, all four of the city's major pumping stations came to a halt Thursday, leaving the area with its worst-ever water crisis. The pumps were restarted yesterday morning.

For some, the blackout and its residual problems have been more inconvenient than disastrous.

"We had stored water, and we have a battery-operated radio and a battery-operated reading light," said Gail Bellamy, who lives in Cleveland Heights. "We also have a generator, so we did have air conditioning."

For Bellamy, the managing editor and food editor of Restaurant Hospitality, a national trade journal, the only real problems were getting out of her 20th-story office in downtown Cleveland - she was wearing "inappropriate high-heeled sandals" - and facing the horrors of whatever melted in her freezer while the power was out.

"There's some shrimp in here I don't even want to think about," she said.

Bellamy was among the many downtown workers who stayed home yesterday, as officials had urged them to, and the usually busy streets were noticeably quiet.

Business as usual

While many news accounts have noted with a touch of surprise that most people reacted calmly and civilly to the blackout, in Bellamy's experience, that's just business as usual - with or without a power crisis.

"We all know our neighbors here," she said. "We always check on everybody and see if they need anything."

Wire reports contributed to this article.

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