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Rush-hour commuters bear brunt of outage

Robbed of the comforts of an air-conditioned commute on the train, Jeff Roberts calmly climbed down the stairs of his Midtown Manhattan office building late yesterday afternoon and readied himself for an eight-mile walk home.

Roberts, an AT&T Corp. employee, and thousands of other commuters flooded Gotham's streets after yesterday's power outage, with many seeking refuge on buses, cabs and ferries, the major modes of public transportation still working.

"At this point, I'm looking down out the window," Roberts said from his building. "I just see a lot of people and traffic moving very slowly."

Commuters bore the brunt of the outage. It struck at rush hour and shut down airports and rail service in New York and other northern U.S. and Canadian cities for hours. Three New York area airports and the Cleveland airport reopened last night, but planes at Toronto and Ottawa remained grounded.

The outage sent ripples across the nation as flights were canceled and rerouted, including about two dozen at the three airports serving the Baltimore-Washington area. Flights were canceled at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport and Reagan Washington National Airport, where 15 shuttle runs between New York and the nation's capital normally operate each evening.

Amtrak trains traveling from Washington to Boston were also blocked.

New York City and northern New Jersey transit authorities mobilized all available buses and ferries to help commuters get home. Tolls were suspended in New Jersey.

Transportation officials were advising travelers to check transportation Web sites and call for information on specific trains and planes, but phone lines were busy, cell phones were jammed and some Internet sites could not be updated because of the power outage.

"We're just trying to get people out of the city," said Micah Rasmussen, a spokesman for New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey.

Amtrak trains remained in operation but stopped in Trenton, N.J., to the south of New York City and New Rochelle, N.Y., to the north.

"It's a fluid situation," Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman, said during the evening rush hour. "There's no power at [New York's] Penn Station and service in the immediate area is disrupted."

A spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation said the state did not lose power and that service was not disrupted in Maryland. But some travelers arrived at BWI to discover their plans were changed.

BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean said that by early last evening he had counted 10 flights that were canceled or, with a ray of optimism, considered delayed. More flights from affected airports were canceled, he said.

"If they hadn't left yet, the flights there were canceled," he said.

Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and Kennedy International and La Guardia airports in New York were closed for hours after the outage left them unable to operate security equipment. Air traffic controllers remained in their towers and used auxiliary power.

The outage affected operations for American Airlines and its American Eagle subsidiary at Kennedy, La Guardia and Islip Long Island McArthur airports in New York. It also affected flights to and from Newark, Syracuse and Buffalo, N.Y., Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, American spokesman Tim Wagner said in a statement.

"All flights on the ground at the time of the outage will remain on the ground until power is restored," Wagner said. "All aircraft en route to those destinations will be handled by air traffic control, which is operating on backup power sources."

Southwest Airlines service was disrupted at Cleveland, Detroit and Islip airports, company spokeswoman Edna Ruano said. Seven flights were canceled, and pilots headed for those destinations at the time of the outage had the choice of being rerouted or returning to their originating city, she said.

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